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INVISIBLE
CHAINS


Copyright 2000 by Eva Vogiel

 

123 Ditmas Avenue
Brooklyn, New York 11218
718-972-6200 800-972-6201

In loving memory of my dear father
Mr. A. Rumpler
A talmid chacham, whose whole life
was avodas Hashem and who guided us,
his children, with wisdom and understanding
in every aspect of our lives.



Chapter 1

ENSLAVED

The wheelchair made deep tracks in the
wet snow as Frumie pushed it up the path and
steered it round the house to the side door.
Skillfully, she maneuvered it up the step and wheeled it
straight into the bright yellow kitchen, breathing a sigh
of relief. It was bitterly cold outside, but the sight of the
coal fire burning merrily in the grate warmed her imme-
diately. Frumie peeled off her brown wool gloves and
rubbed her hands together for a moment before turning
toward the wheelchair to help her sister Judy out of her
heavy outdoor clothes.

"Oh no!" Judy cried out suddenly. "I've left my book
in Libby's house!"

"What a shame," Frumie said sympathetically, as she
unwound Judy's purple wool scarf and placed it over a
chair. "I'll get it for you tomorrow..."

"But I need it now!" Judy protested petulantly. "I've
got nothing to read! I'll die of boredom! Oh, Frumie,


please..." There was a wheedling tone in her voice, "please
fetch it now!"

"But Judy, it's freezing! You can't expect me to go out
again in this weather!"

Judy's face took on a martyred expression. "I'd go
myself if I could...if only I could walk," she said quietly.
Judy's tactics had the desired effect. A familiar feel-
ing of guilt swept over Frumie and she knew she could
not refuse Judy's request.

Frumie sighed. 'All right then," she said, somewhat
reluctantly, "I'll go if you really want me to." Frumie
picked up her gloves and made for the door.

"Where are you going, Frumie?" her mother asked,
coming into the kitchen from upstairs, where she had
been putting the baby to bed.

Frumie told her, half hoping her mother wouldn't
allow her to go. But Mrs. Kleiner merely reprimanded
Judy for forgetting her book and making it necessary for
her older sister to go outside in such bad weather.

With a resigned air, Frumie went out, wrapping her
scarf tightly round her and thrusting her hands deep
into her pockets. Bracing herself against the cold, she
trudged through the snow, trying not to feel resentful.

After all, she told herself, it was her fault that Judy
was confined to that dreadful wheelchair, unable to walk.
It had been more than half a year since the accident
had occurred but it was so vivid in Frumie's mind that
she knew it was something she would never be able to
forget.

It had all started with the poem. Thirteen-year-old
Frumie would often express her feelings in the form of
a poem. Nobody ever saw these poems...she would have
been acutely embarrassed if anyone had...but it felt
good to get things off her chest by putting them into
words. On the afternoon in question Frumie had
returned from school upset because of a bitter quarrel
between two girls in her class. She had slipped upstairs
to write a poem, expressing the feelings she, as an out-
side observer, had felt.

"Hi, Frumie," eleven-year-old Judy had poked her
head round the door.

"Hello, Judy," Frumie responded absently, automati-
cally placing her arms over the paper to shield it from
view.

The movement aroused Judy's curiosity. "What are
you writing?" she asked, wrinkling her short, snub nose
inquisitively.

"Nothing...nothing..." Frumie replied, wishing her
sister would go away.

But Judy was not to be fobbed off. "What's the
secret?" she asked, coming up to the table and tugging
at Frumie's arm, trying to catch a glimpse of the piece of
paper underneath. "Let me see! Please! I won't tell any-
one!"

"No!" Frumie cried emphatically, lifting her arms to
push Judy away. "Go away and don't be so nosey!"

Judy grabbed her opportunity. While Frumie's arms
were raised, she quickly and deftly snatched up the
paper. "Oh, what's this? A poem?" Judy began to read
aloud. "'Strife, like a violent storm, tearing friendship


asunder. With fury like a lightning flash and angry
words like thunder.' Hey, this is good!..."

"Give it back to me!" Frumie cried, her face scarlet,
as she tried to grab the paper away from Judy

But Judy dodged her and bounded out of the room,
making for the stairs. "My friend Libby's coming soon.
Boy, wait until she sees this! It's so dramatic!" Judy
declared.

"No! Give it back to me! I forbid you to show it to
anyone!" Frumie cried, reaching Judy and stretching her
hand out frantically, to retrieve her poem. Judy jerked
away from her and then it happened.

The backward movement caused Judy to lose her
footing by the top of the staircase. Judy began to fall.
Unable to catch her, Frumie let out a loud cry of alarm
as she watched Judy somersaulting for what seemed like
an eternity down the whole flight of stairs, screaming as
she rolled and knocked against the wood banister.

It had been so absolutely horrible to watch. Frumie
had never felt so helpless in her life. She shivered as she
remembered the scene. The commotion. ..everyone
rushing out into the hall.. .her two brothers, Danny and
Sholem, staring aghast when they saw Judy lying in a
twisted shape at the foot of the stairs. ..three-year-old
Miri, so frightened by the noise that she added to the
confusion by wailing and burying her face in her moth-
er's apron.

But clearest in Frumie 's mind was the picture of her
mother, holding two-month-old Chezky in her arms,
her face paler than Frumie had ever seen it. She looked
as if all her strength had left her and she would soon
faint. Thrusting the baby into Danny's arms, her moth-
er had sunk down beside her daughter.

"Judy...Judy...," she whispered urgently. Frumie had
first been afraid that Judy had, chas vesha/om, died. She
really didn't know what to think especially when she
saw her mother bend over Judy.

Emerging from her state of shock, Frumie had run
down the stairs to where Judy lay. "What happened?"
her mother asked quietly looking up at her.

"She...she fell down the stairs," Frumie told her,
unnecessarily.

"But why? What made her fall?" There was a note of
suspicion behind the question.

"I didn't push her!" Frumie declared defensively.
However, remembering what happened, she was imme-
diately overcome with guilt. "But it was my fault, all the
same," she added, beginning to cry. "We were fighting....
Oh, I'm sorry! This is awful! Poor Judy! We must call the
doctor!"

Mrs. Kleiner sighed and threw Frumie a reproachful
look before turning to Judy, who, baruch Hashem, seemed
quite alive and was crying and beginning to make loud
moaning sounds.

"My back!" she groaned. "My back! It hurts..."
"My poor darling!" Mrs. Kleiner placed a trembling
hand over Judy's hand. "We'll soon get you comfortable.
Help me lift her, Frumie. We'd better put her on the
sofa."

Judy, who was scared and in great pain, let out loud


screams as her brothers and mother picked her up and
settled her on the couch in the living room. This just
made Chezky and Miri cry even louder and Danny
wasn't having any luck quieting them down. And
Frumie was so scared for Judy and felt so guilty for
what had happened, that she couldn't stop crying. Judy
then seemed to take a turn for the worse her face was
chalk white and her breathing was heavy

Everything seemed to happen with lightning speed,
Frumie recalled. Her mother had telephoned the doc-
tor, begging him to come at once. Then she had rung
Mr. Kleiner's office and been told that he had already
left. Frumie remembered how her father and Doctor
Schlussel had both arrived at the same time. Mr. Kleiner
had come in, looking more puzzled and anxious than
Frumie had ever seen him. Mrs. Kleiner, relieved that he
was home, had given him a breathless account of the sit-
uation, while leading the doctor to the living room,
where Judy lay sobbing and moaning on the green sofa.
"How did she get to the sofa?" the doctor asked.
"Did she walk?"

"No," Mrs. Kleiner replied, obviously surprised at
the question. "We carried her..."

"Well, you shouldn't have done that!" Dr. Schlussel's
voice was stern, though there was a kindly look in his
blue eyes as he regarded Mrs. Kleiner, noting her crest-
fallen expression. "You should never move someone
after an accident! She really should not have been
moved...."

He went across to the sofa and everyone stood
around apprehensively while he made his examination.
When he turned round his face was grave.

"I'm afraid it looks quite serious," he said. "She
seems to have injured her back. Although she has some
feeling in her legs she does not seem able to move them.
We'll have to look at her further at the hospital."

"You you mean she's broken her back?" Mr.
Kleiner asked, swallowing.

"I'm afraid it seems like it. We will have to wait "
He was interrupted by an agonized cry and more
sobbing from Judy

"Oh no!" she wailed, "I can't have broken my back!"
"Hush, Judy..." her mother tried to sound reassuring,
although her voice trembled, "I'm sure everything will
be fine!"

"What if I can't ever move again?" Judy cried getting
hysterical. "I'll be like that miner we read about. The
mine collapsed on him and broke his back and he was
paralyzed for life!" She began to weep loudly.

Dr. Schlussel removed his glasses and wiped them,
looking at Judy sympathetically. A short, plump gentle-
man with thin, graying hair on which a rather crumpled
black yarmulke rested, he had a kind, fatherly air about
him. Before the war he had been a house doctor in a
hospital in Germany, but when the persecution of the
Jews began he found himself out of work. In 1937, real-
izing the seriousness of the situation, he fled with his
family to England and settled in the town of Liverpool,
where he opened his own office. Now, ten years later,
his practice was thriving and he was liked and respected


by the Jewish community, most of whom were his
patients.

"Try not to worry," he said, speaking with a slightly
nasal voice and a pronounced German accent, "it could
be that it is not broken. You will have to stay flat on
your back for a week and after that we will see if you can
move your legs or not."

"Shouldn't she be in hospital?" Mr. Kleiner asked.
"Maybe she should," the doctor replied. "Normally, I
would send her, but there have been a few cases of
poliomyelitis at the hospital, which as you know is
infectious, and at the moment they are only admitting
urgent cases. I'm sure you would prefer for her to stay at
home. We will see what happens by next week."
Promising to come again in a few days, he took his leave.

At this point in her reverie Frumie reached Libby
Goldman's house, the icy cold wind still beating against
her face. Judy's friend opened the door for her and
stared in surprise when Frumie told her why she had
come.

"Wow!" she exclaimed, "fancy coming out in this
weather for that! You are a fantastic sister! I wouldn't do
it for my sisters!!"

"It's a bit different," Frumie commented dryly
"Yes, I suppose it is," Libby agreed. "Poor Judy..."
Poor Judy! Nobody ever said 'poor Frumie,' Frumie
thought resentfully as she made her way back home,
with Judy's book tucked under her arm. Immediately
remorseful, she shook the unkind thought out of her
head. Of course, she was luckier than Judy. She could
walk and go wherever she liked. But it was no use pre-
tending that her sister's accident and the consequences
did not affect her life too. When she compared her life
before the accident and after what a change! In a lot
of ways Frumie had become Judy's slave...always at her
beck and call, regardless of any plans she herself may
have made. But of course it was only fair.

If she had not tried to stop Judy from taking her
poem, the whole thing would never have happened.
Although her mother had comforted Frumie at the
time, telling her not to feel guilty, her mother still
seemed to think that Frumie was obliged to wait on
Judy, pointing out that, after all, she was not confined to
a wheelchair.

Sometimes Frumie wondered whether her sister's
injury was quite as bad as everyone seemed to think.
Even Dr. Schlussel had seemed surprised when, after a
week, Judy's condition had remained unchanged. He had
brought along a specialist who had checked Judy thor-
oughly and arranged for her to have an X-ray and some
tests. These showed evidence of bad bruising but there
was no sign of a break. The specialist was hopeful that
Judy would start walking again soon. This ray of hope
helped to soften the blow a little when an enormous bill
arrived. Frumie could still visualize her father's shocked
and worried face when he received it. He had always
complained that he wasn't paid very well in the account-


ing firm where he worked. Still, he had said at the time,
it would all be worth it if Judy recovered.

But Judy showed no signs of recovering. She insist-
ed that her back was broken, rambling on about the
miner who was paralyzed and protesting hysterically
that such was her fate too. From time to time her par-
ents would stand her up, coaxing her to make an effort
to walk, or at least stand, but Judy would just sink to the
ground. Eventually, unable to bear the way she crumpled
up, they gave up and resigned themselves to the situa-
tion. A wheelchair was bought and Judy spent her days
in it, being wheeled to school and back by Frumie and
occasionally being taken to her friend Libby's house to
give her a change of scene.

A fresh blizzard started and Frumie quickened her
pace as the snow beat in sharp pinpricks against her face
and settled on her hat and coat. By the time Frumie
arrived home she looked like a walking snowman.

Judy giggled as Frumie entered the house. "Oh,
Frumie! If you could see what you look like!"

'Judy!" her mother cried reproachfully, "is that how
you show your gratitude to Frumie?"

"Oh sorry," Judy said, immediately contrite. "Thanks
Frumie. It was jolly nice of you to go out again and get
me my book."

"That's all right," Frumie mumbled, taking off her
coat and opening the back door to shake the snow off.

"Dr. Schlussel was here while you were out," Judy
told her.

"Oh?" Frumie regarded her sister quizzically A visit
from the doctor was nothing unusual. He often dropped
in to see how Judy was getting on. There must have
been more to his call if Judy chose to mention it. Frumie
felt a flutter of excitement. Perhaps he had come with
good news. Perhaps there was fresh hope of a cure.

"He was a bit worried about me looking so pale,"
Judy informed her, feeling important. "He thinks I
could do with a few months in the country."

"Which is quite impossible, of course!" her mother
put in. "Where would she go? It's no use sending her to
a non-Jewish convalescent home...or even a Jewish one
that's not strictly kosher. And what about her school-
ing? She's missed months of school as it is!"

Frumie nodded in agreement but Judy looked disap-
pointed. "I hate going to school, anyway!" she declared.
On that point Frumie sympathized fully with Judy.
There was no Jewish school in Liverpool so they attend-
ed a non-Jewish girls' high school. Even before her acci-
dent Judy had been miserable there. She had one or two
good friends but since the majority of her class were
non-Jewish girls she felt isolated. Now, since she was
going to school in a wheelchair, most of her classmates
seemed to regard her as some sort of freak.

Frumie, on the other hand, adored school. More
than half of her class were Jewish girls, and she was
friendly with them all and they had loads of fun togeth-
er. Even though her involvement in class activities had
become somewhat restricted through her obligation
to Judy she still enjoyed great popularity. Only yester-
day she had been elected class monitor for the coming


term. She thought about January 1948 with excited
anticipation and pitied Judy for longing to get away

A few days after Dr. Schlussel's visit, Mrs. Kleiner
heard about Migdal Binah school.

"I met Mrs. Landau today," she told her husband
that evening, "and she told me something interesting. It
seems there is a Jewish boarding school for girls down
south, in the country I can't help wondering..."

"If you're thinking of sending Judy there, I'd forget
it," Mr. Kleiner interrupted. "It's a school, not a conva-
lescent home. And I'm sure they wouldn't take a girl
who can't walk. And besides, you don't know anything
about the place. How do you know it's even a frum
school. And the fees would probably be exorbitant!"

Frumie and Judy, who were both sitting at the dining
room table, both ostensibly concentrating on their
homework, pricked up their ears and listened expec-
tantly Judy wished her father would not raise so many
objections. This school, she thought, would be a wel-
come release from the dreadful Liverpool High that she
was- now attending! Frumie, too, felt disappointment at
her father's words. She could not help feeling in spite
of her sense of guilt at the thought that if Judy were to
go to this boarding school it would be such a weight off
her shoulders she would have her life back and be able
to enjoy her own school-life to the full.

"I could ask Mrs. Bernstein about it," Mrs. Kleiner
suggested. "Mrs. Landau mentioned that Mrs.
Bernstein's daughter goes there."

"You could, I suppose," Mr. Kleiner said. "If it's all
right for the Bernsteins...." He looked interested for a
moment, then he shook his head doubtfully. "But don't
count on Judy being accepted."

When Mrs. Kleiner spoke to Mrs. Bernstein she
was surprised at how glowingly she spoke of the school.
"I know the headmistress, Minna Langfeld, and Suri
loves it there. She's nearly sixteen so she'll be leaving at
the end of the year but I'll certainly send my Channy
when she's old enough!"

Mrs. Kleiner was convinced that this was the ideal
place for Judy, who would benefit from the country air as
well as a yiddishe education. She took the address from
Mrs. Bernstein and wrote a letter to Mrs. Langfeld.

A week later, Mrs. Kleiner was not altogether sur-
prised when she received a negative reply. Much as she
would like to accept her, Mrs. Langfeld had written,
there were too many problems and she was not sure the
school could cope with a student in a wheelchair. The
only solution, she suggested, would be for the family to
move nearer to Elmsleigh, the village in Buckingham-
shire where the school was situated, in which case she
would be glad to accept Judy as a day pupil.

"Well, that's quite out of question!" Mrs. Kleiner
declared and put the letter away, determined to forget
the whole idea.

But when Mrs. Kleiner mentioned this to Mrs.
Bernstein, Mrs. Bernstein insisted on contacting the
headmistress and putting in a good word for them.

"It would be so good for Judy," she said. "My Suri has
just returned for the winter holidays and she looks mar-


velous! I'll write to Minna Langfeld. She's just arrived in
London now, and she's staying with her son and daugh-
ter-in-law."

They heard no more about it for the next few weeks
and indeed the matter did not even come under discus-
sion. The girls were quite busy during the holidays,
attending extra limudei kodesh classes and preparing for
the next term. Frumie was excited and busy when the
first day of the new term arrived. She prepared all her
books methodically before going into the dining room
to daven Shacharis. When she stepped into the kitchen
for breakfast it was obvious that something had hap-
pened. Judy was looking starry-eyed and immediately
began to babble excitedly

"Frumie! Guess what! A letter's come from that
school in the country! They're accepting me!"

'Judy! That's amazing!" Frumie exclaimed, a great
sense of relief rising within her.

But the feeling was short lived. Her mother's next
words sent it plummeting right down.

"Yes," Mrs. Kleiner said, "I'm so pleased, even
though it means I'm going to have to do a lot typing
work at home. You've no idea how much it costs to send
two girls to boarding school! Your father is going to have
to put in extra time at work as well."

"Two girls?" Frumie felt her mouth go dry

"That's right," her mother said. "Mr?,. Bernstein told
the headmistress about you how devoted and caring
you are. And Mrs. Langfeld agreed to take Judy only on
the condition that you go too!"

                                                                                          

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