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  The Road Home begins in a Polish town where Rachel and Monika play games and share dreams and the world seems to be a lovely and secure place for two fourteen-year-old friends...


The Road turns into a world of dread and darkness, as Rachel must confront those who would harm her  and learns of her own friends  betrayal...


The Road takes Rachel to a strange new world, to a religious school in the sleepy English village of Shefford, and to a strange new life the life of an observant Jew...


The Road divides and Rachel must choose between this new and compelling path and the

 dream she'd held on to for so long.


The Road Home is a poignant and beautifully written novel

of choices and challenges, of a girl coming of age under the clouds of war and with the promise of a wonderful new life in store for her.


The Road Home


ISBN   1-56871-225-l
264 pages



First published 2002

Copyright © 2002 by Aviva Cytryn

ISBN 1-56871-225-1

202 Airport Executive Park Nanuet, NY 10954

For my grandparents,
Mr. and Mrs. Harry and Paula Cytryn
two of the survivors

While the characters in this novel are fictitious, the events of the Kindertransport and the evacuation of the Jewish Secondary School to Shefford are all based upon fact. To the best of my knowledge, all place names are real with the exception of the Professional Arts School in Poland and Holbourne Park. All dates mentioned correspond to actual events in European history.
First and foremost, to my grandparents, Rabbi Dr. and Mrs. Walter and Nellie Orenstien, for their encouragement and enthusiasm from the onset of this project and for taking the journey with me to the finish. My grandfather, a successful au­thor in his own right, for offering me invaluable advice regarding the publishing of this book, and my grandmother, Nellie, a true master of the English language, for reading through the entire novel and editing it, more than once and more than twice. May you both share many more happy years together and merit much joy from your children and grandchildren.
Thanks also to my editor, Miriam Zakon  for your remark­able patience, brilliant intuitions, and increasing ability to chal­lenge me as a writer. I'd also like to extend my thanks to the entire staff at Targum for their commitment to this project.
I am especially indebted to William "Fred" Hoffman for keep­ing this book honest, for taking me back to Poland 1939 and re­creating it for me historically, socially, and linguistically in this novel. Thank you for putting so much time, effort, and spirit into this work. I couldn't have done it without you.
To all my Polish friends  Lukasz Salwinski, Katarzyna Grycza, Barbara Luszczynska, Eve Jankowicz, and Onna for your invaluable input in serving as my Polish-language consultants.
To Deborah Oppenheimer, Academy Award-winning pro­ducer of Into the Arms of Strangers, a wonderful, informative docu­mentary, and for filling me in on whatever gaps remained.
I'd like to thank Kurt and Margarete Goldberger of the Kindertransport Organization for their assistance.
To Willy and Berti Herzka, who went on the original transport as children  thank you for giving me of your time and providing me with a real-life source of information.
To my friend, Tova Greene Lansky  for making a wonderful "Monika."
To all my British friends  Sabrina Gradoni, Piers Conner, and the rest who insisted on remaining anonymous  for your careful checking over of the manuscript and making sure my British Eng­lish was perfect, and to Hugh M. Hamilton for all your help with the old British telephone exchange system.
I'd like to thank everyone from the Royal College of Music in London  especially Pam Thompson, Peter Horton, and Peter Hewitt  for educating me on the fine points of the music world of the 1930s.
To Sheila Schwebel for taking me back to Poland and giving me the opportunity to visit some of the places I wrote about. It was an unforgettable experience for which I will always be grateful.
And finally, to my loving family: My parents, Mr. and Mrs. Abe and Leslie Cytryn, for their unconditional love and support  you mean the world to me. My sister Shani, who is more than just a sister, and her husband, Danny, for his friendship and encourage­ment. And Sholi, for making me so happy.
I would like to take this opportunity to express my deep gratitude to God for bringing me to this day and allowing me to use the gifts of self-expression He has bestowed upon me in reaching this achievement. It is my fervent hope that through the reading of this novel, my readers will be infused with a renewed commitment to God and a love for His people.
Life passes neither in days nor hours, but in moments. Moments which, rushing past us, take on the path of our future as surely as they slip into our past. Yet how rarely do we pause to examine that path, to consider whether the road we have chosen is of our own making or simply one upon which we drift along with eyes closed?
But what if we were to stop  to take stock of each precious moment before it passes? Might we finally come to see the countless forks in the road that shapes a life? And, seeing the choices we have made, choose another path?
July 1950 Camelot Village The Tower of London
How ironic that when I'd finally see her again it would be at another wall. It was she who had suggested the place over the phone. The Tower of London, built sometime in the eleventh century, had originally served as the royal residence of William the Conqueror and later as a jail. Now it was a popular tourist attraction. Finding it shouldn't be a problem for either of us, she had said.
But I hadn't been thinking about the tourist spot. My head had still been reeling from the initial shock of hearing that voice, her voice, on the other end of the line. The call had come out of nowhere. It had been completely unexpected, sending me back­ward through the prism of the past.
And now I was going to see her again.
I promise you, when the war is over, we will meet again.
We will meet again.
We will meet again.
It's been almost ten years now, but I can still hear her say those words. Nearly a decade has passed, yet I still remember exactly how her eyes looked at our fateful last meeting  all mixed up with fear and naivetÙ and hope and promise... Now I was going to see her again.
Would she recognize me? Would she accept me now, after ev­erything we'd been through, after all that had changed?
Would she understand? How could she really, when I barely understood it all myself?
I recognized her right away, even after all this time. She still had the same loose, blonde hair, that stubborn lock that always fell into her brilliant blue eyes, the same crooked nose from that bicy­cle accident. She wasn't looking at anyone, just smoothing the cracks on the wall with her fingers.
I approached her tentatively.
No answer.
I tried again, stepping closer. "Monika!"
She turned around and stared at me for a long time, then closed her eyes.
"It's me," I whispered.
Her eyes filled with tears. "You're here!"
I nodded, and it was an awkward few minutes while we stud­ied each other.
"Did you get my letters?" "All of them."
"I had been worried that maybe you hadn't, you know, because of the war and " A sob welled up in my throat, and I choked on my words. She, too, was crying. I relished her embrace as our tears mingled. Then she carefully withdrew herself from my arms, and we began to talk.
She had left Poland only a few months after our last encounter by the wall. She had moved to France and married. It ended in di­vorce, and she was now working in Rome as a producer.
"So tell me," she said. "Are you still Rachel? The Rachel I re­member?" She stared at my long sleeves and high neckline in puz­zlement.
I sighed. Here it comes. I spoke for what seemed like hours. I be­gan with everything I had done and everyone I had met since that fateful night at the wall. I told her about Shefford. I told her about Beth.
When I finished, she took my hand in hers and curled her fin­gers around my palm, as she had done so many years ago. "Two dif­ferent worlds," she said sadly. "It's no use, you and I."
My stomach lurched, and I swallowed hard. "Then this is goodbye, Monika? Again?"
She nodded, curtly wished me the best of luck, then got up, turned around, and walked out of my life. She never looked back once.
I have, though.
Sometimes the past clutches at my heart and penetrates so deeply into my soul that all I can do is look back. And remember.

August 1938
A town in western Poland
The sun glistened off the bright blue waters. I brushed away a sweaty lock of hair that was plastered against my fore­head. "Shouldn't we head back now? I'm so hot I could melt!"
Monika smiled and laughed wickedly. "We've only been row­ing for half an hour. If you'd start using those muscles of yours, we could be at Coral Grove in ten minutes."
I groaned. How did she manage to look so cool and pretty in this brutal weather?
"We could have walked. In fact, you were the one who sug­gested this lovely boat ride so "
"Yes, I did, and now I pay the price. I would give my two front teeth right now for a tall glass of lemonade with ice. I'd give "
"How about giving me some muscle? If you stop rowing, we'll get turned around and start heading off course."
"That was the idea."
Monika sighed. "Do you honestly want to go back?"
I didn't. I would go with Monika anyplace she would take me. We'd been friends for only six months, yet I still had to rub my eyes and blink every time I looked at her. I could hardly believe that beautiful, popular Monika had chosen me to be her friend. Her best friend at that!
I recalled how our friendship began. As I pulled my oars through the churning waters, my mind drifted back to last winter.
Papa handed me a bag. "Here, take this. Inside are a number of forms to give in at school and your lunch." He touched my shoul­der. "Don't worry if you have a hard time adjusting at first. There's nothing to be frightened about. Just do as they say and you'll be fine."
I reassured Papa that I'd be all right, but inside I was trem­bling. Why worry Papa, though? He had enough on his mind.
I had left for school early so as not to embarrass myself by coming late on the very first day, but the nearer I got to the school­yard, the less 1 could bring myself to go any further. Everyone was walking and chatting in groups of two, three, four...and I was the outsider.
I felt terribly self-conscious. My uniform hadn't been ready on time, and that made it even worse. Papa had assured me that no one would notice, but I saw that all the girls were clad in matching navy pleated skirts and white blouses. The boys were similarly clothed in navy pants or shorts and white shirts with a tie. My hair, too, was all wrong. No one had long hair like I did, tied back in a braid. They all wore short, fashionable hairstyles. To say I felt out of place would be a gross understatement.
As I neared the school, I noticed a pretty, petite girl standing
by herself under a tree. I wondered if this was her first day, too.
"Excuse me, can you tell me  are you new here?"
I turned in surprise. It was her! I was so startled to hear her speak to me that I had to ask her to repeat herself.
"Y...yes, I am. I mean, I'm new at school. We moved here from Lublin in the summer. Are you new, too?" I asked hopefully. Maybe she was just as nervous as I was. Maybe she had no one to talk to. We could be recluses together. We could 
"Me? New? I've been here since I was in diapers." She threw her head back and laughed. Her blonde hair rippled in the sun­light. Standing next to her, I felt plain-looking and dull.
"But never mind that," she went on. "Did you find out what class you got placed in?"
"First year gimnasium."
"Good! Same as me. Come and I'll show you where the class meets."
That's how I first got to know Monika. Rather than the dreaded experience I had anticipated, my first day at the new school was exciting and my confidence returned. I joined the cho­rus, learned gymnastics, and even made honors. I formed many friendships, of course, but there was no one like Monika, and I was very possessive of her.
"Are you dreaming?" Monika was waving a wet oar in front of
my face. "We're almost at Coral Grove."
I blinked and the boat lurched. "What was that?"
"The water's gotten a bit choppy. Come help me turn this
thing. The grove is just to our left."
Coral Grove. That wasn't its real name. We called it that be­cause of the unusual coral color of the surrounding trees that led us to the grove in the first place. We stumbled upon it by accident one day when we were hiking. We saw a path, fol­lowed it, and there it was.
The grove was surrounded by a wall of medium height made up of stones big enough and strong enough to get a secure foot­hold. You could climb over it to get inside, but on rainy days the stones were slippery so we used the wrought-iron gate. Once you got inside, the world vanished. Struck by the awesome beauty of the orange clump of trees nestled in a garden of every type flower you can imagine, all the troubles of the outside world fell away, not daring to enter such a perfect place.
A few feet away from the garden was a small hut. It was hidden at first, because of the numerous gnarled weeds, but one sunny day Monika and 1 brought garden shears and kept at it until we got a glimpse of the little structure.
It was not attractive. Years of wind, rain, and sheer neglect had left their mark, but it had a strong foundation. Monika considered it beautiful. She said she admired the hut's resolve to survive at all costs, to brave the elements and stand up against it all. Monika called that true beauty.
Over time we swept the hut, trimmed the flowers, and watered the grass. Still, as much as we loved to sit among the fragrant flow­ers and seek shelter in the hut, nothing in the grove took the place of the wall.
The wall marked the outskirts of the grove. Wide and sturdy, high enough so that neighboring trees could rest their branches on it, it served as a fortress of sorts, blocking out unwanted critters, yet protecting that which grew inside it.
The wall was my favorite part of the grove, although I couldn't say for sure why that was so. Maybe it was the strength it radiated, be­ing so solid and strong. Perhaps it was the privacy it guaranteed us, its supreme height protecting us from pesky nosy bodies. Perhaps it was simply because it was such a part of my friendship with Monika. Going to Coral Grove. Talking together by the wall. It said "us."
We pulled the boat onto the bank. "So what do you want to do today? Gardening? Or should we just relax and pretend that school doesn't start next week and we'll have summer holiday forever."
I smiled.
Monika shrugged and gave me a grin. "But even on summer holiday, you probably have something to talk about. You always do. Whether it's problems with school or politics, there's always something you need to turn over in your mind."
That's me. I'm an analyzer. I'm not one of those people who are so carefree that they don't realize their troubles until they're gone. I have to think everything over, cut it up into a million pieces, stare at them for days, and then paste them all back to­gether and think about them some more.
"Something is bothering Papa."
"Your father? But I thought you said he was much better now that his business is prospering. And you said that he smiles more and he..."
Papa went through a very difficult time when Mama passed away two years ago. She contracted pneumonia and couldn't get rid of it. Papa didn't say much for months after. He spent most of his days buried in his books. He took it terribly hard. Mama meant everything to him.
I also felt the loss deeply. I still do. She's the first person I see when I wake up in the morning, her picture displayed opposite my bed. But I also sense her in all that is beautiful in my world. I can smell her among the fragrances of my garden. I can feel her warmth on a summer day. I hear her in my music. There are days that I can actually feel her presence, and I know that in so many ways she has never truly left me.
It was hard at the beginning, though. I felt as if I had lost Papa, too. I wanted to reach out to him, but I never knew what to say. I thought that just by being there I could make Papa feel better and at the same time draw my own strength from his. But Papa had re­treated into a shell from which nothing could bring him out. Not even me. I felt like the biggest failure. It was worse than blanking out at a music recital. Worse than moving away from Lublin. I wasn't good enough for Papa. He didn't want me. I had failed him as a daughter.
As I grew older, I began to understand more and stopped re­senting Papa and Mama for leaving me. When Papa's interest in his work at the publishing company came back to life, bringing with it a new, laughing, loving Papa, I was overjoyed. Still, those hard times had left a dull ache in my heart.
Monika's friendship was a blessing. She filled the void in me with her humor, her impulsiveness, her unconditional acceptance. Each day I felt the aching subside until the pain no longer existed except as a bittersweet memory.
I had confided my worries over Papa to Monika  how I feared that he might never emerge from his shell. Recently, as Papa had begun gradually getting better, I expressed my relief to Monika, too. But now I had other concerns.
"Monika, Papa's been telling me that he's nervous about what's happening to Jews in Germany and other parts of Europe. He said there are rumors of Jews being pulled out of their homes during the night and taken to some unknown destination."
I had to tread very carefully here. While Monika and her fam­ily had made their homes in Poland for decades now, they were ac­tually German in origin. Monika could trace her ancestry back to the nineteenth century, when Poland was invaded and divided up among the empires of Russia, Prussia, and Austria. Her ancestors had been among the many Germans who had resettled in the west­ern part of Poland, an area long ruled by the Germans.
Her eyes never left my face as I spoke. Big, beautiful, and so blue, they expressed her inner soul. I could always tell what Monika was thinking by looking into her eyes. Now they seemed strangely dull and empty.
"I don't see what this has to do with you, Rachel. Neither you nor your Papa are religious."
No, we were not religious. But we were Jews. Papa's parents, my grandparents, were very religious. But Papa rebelled when he was a teenager and left his parents' way of life. It was a time that left Papa with painful memories, and he hardly ever talked about it. My grandparents had passed away while I was still an infant, so I knew little about Papa's youth.
Mama had a religious background, too. Her parents had been quite observant, and she herself had even kept what she consid­ered a kosher home. She had often tried to get Papa into syna­gogue, but he would not go. He would tell me that I'd never suffer or be deprived of reaching any goal in life because I was Jewish. Consequently we lived the same way Monika's Roman Catholic family lived. You would never know that we were Jewish. We even kept their holidays. I attended the same school as Monika and learned everything there that she did. I knew very little about Juda­ism. My heritage meant nothing to me.
Privately I sometimes wished it did. I believed that everyone was placed on this earth to do something, to change or to make a change. I felt that there must be some Higher Being conducting the vast orchestra that is the world in which we live.
My heart would get these odd longings sometimes. I would cry for no reason. I'd yearn desperately for something, yet I never knew where to look for it, or even if it could be found. These spells, as 1 liked to refer to them, came at the strangest times. Most often they came when I was alone, but not necessarily when I was un­happy. They never seemed associated with sadness but rather with emptiness.
One thing that brought on these spells was a recurring dream. I would find myself in a room filled with people, but their faces were blank, their voices silent, the surroundings unfamiliar. In the center stood a woman. Around her stood children dressed beauti­fully with shining faces, gazing up at the woman. One of them would slip a tiny hand into hers, and the woman would smile. Ev­erything was peaceful and calm.
Then the scene would transform. At first, all I could see were
two orange-red lights. I could never tell what they were at first, ex­cept that they were so bright that they made my eyes smart. Then, as always, the lights would recede and I could see what they were  burning candles decked in a pair of silver candlesticks.
I'd stare, mesmerized by the flames, as they grew larger and larger until they enveloped me. Their warmth would surround me, and it was the most pleasant feeling I had ever known. The flames seemed to burn away the emptiness in my soul and fill me with what I had been missing my whole life.
I looked at Monika. "It does affect us. Even if someone is not observant, he's still Jewish. And they know that."
"Who's they?"
"The people who are supposedly coming to arrest Jews. In some parts of Europe Jews are getting fired from their jobs. They are under curfew. After hours, they're not allowed to walk outside. I don't know very much. I just know Papa is worried."
Monika moved from the nest of flowers to sit closer to me. "Listen, nothing is happening here in Poland. Everything is okay here, and it will continue to be."
"I'm not so sure. The Nazi party is gaining members and get­ting stronger. It seems that a lot of people here agree with their ideas and are going along with whatever they're doing.
"Oh, Monika! What if something does happen? What if we have to leave and go somewhere else? I don't think I'd ever be able to live through something like that. I'm a coward, Monika. I like everything to be smooth and easy for me, and I never want to have any worries. I just want to know the peace and security that I feel at this moment. I want to  need to  believe that I'll always be safe."
Monika hesitated before replying. I think she knew that her
words were important to me now.
"I can't believe that there is anyone who goes through life without ever feeling vulnerable. Perhaps fear is what gives us strength. Knowing how susceptible we are, and realizing just how much of the future is beyond our control, forces us to become strong. We have to make decisions every day, never knowing for sure that they're the right ones. Could be we won't ever find out. Things like that scare me, yes, but it's a comfort to know that I'm not alone in this. We all have our fears  you, me, everyone. I don't think we're expected to overcome all of our fears. We wouldn't be human then. I just think we have to accept that our fears are a part of us. With this realization, there's nothing we can't live through, as you put it."
Neither of us spoke after that. We just lay there, immersed in our own thoughts, until the sky grew dark, signaling the end of an­other day.
September 1938
The school Monika and I attended was called "gimnasium." The work was demanding, but if I ever complained, Papa would remind me how lucky I was to be going to school at
He had a point. Between 1772 and the end of the Great War in 1918, Poland was invaded many times and divided up among the empires of Russia, Prussia, and Austria. Each had its own setup for regulating education. Generally people living in the west  as we did  an area long ruled by the Germans, had greater opportuni­ties because during the partition era the Germans had built up the education infrastructure to a greater extent than the other empires.
Before the Great War, it was mainly ethnic Germans who were able to attend school. But after the war the school facilities, no lon­ger solely in the Germans' charge, became open to others, and Pol­ish children began to go to school.
This didn't mean everything was wonderful. The officials who were in charge of overseeing the education of Polish youth went to extreme measures to suppress any sense of Polish identity and pride. Polish was not spoken in school, only Russian or German.
Books written in Polish were banned. In 1880 a decision was reached in Warsaw to permit the study of certain approved litera­ture, but these books were presented as foreign literature and taught in Russian translation.
At that time there were over three million Jews in Poland  nearly 10 percent of the total population. Many were engaged in industry and handicrafts, over a third in trade and commerce, and a small percentage in the professions. Papa himself worked in a publishing company.
Except for a thin stream of wealthy and upper-middle-class Jews, the majority were lower-middle-class workers. The govern­ment's control of economic life was accompanied by restrictive practices that succeeded in impoverishing the Jewish community. A torrent of anti-Semitic legislation and an official government policy of "evacuating" the Jews from Poland was overwhelming many Jews, and quite a few had tried to escape to Germany.
Yet, despite all that, there I was, a Polish Jewish fourteen-year-old girl attending gimnasium, learning history and mathematics and sciences, Papa would say, and he would marvel at how I dared complain about the work!
I walked to school every day, and I liked to get there ten minutes early so I could meet Monika before our first class. Sometimes we would share a pastry, but mostly we just used the opportunity to catch up on daily news and events.
The teachers were very rigid and kept a well-disciplined class. The attitude all around was serious. No misbehavior of any sort was tolerated for long. If you broke any rules, you could get hit on the knuckles or even expelled for days. And it would be up to you to make up the work.
For students who excelled in academics, there was a special
ceremony where they would be honored and receive a book of po­ems or history. After gimnasium we were expected to finish two years of liceum, and then we could take an entrance exam to get into university. That was my dream, to attend a renowned univer­sity and learn a profession with which 1 could change the world. Monika would laugh at me, but she'd say it was always good to have dreams.
School hours ended early, sometime between three and four, but many of the students were involved in afternoon activities. Some took on jobs if money was needed to help out at home. Oth­ers joined a youth group that was offered by a local music and arts school. The school was called the Professional Arts School, and its pupils were wholly committed to their field. Some children from my town were full-time students at this school. They attended their classes and learned ballet or music all in the same building. The youth groups took place in the afternoon, when various classes were open to students from gimnasjum and liceum, offering lessons in art, music, and dance.
For the past two years, I had been attending a music class in which I studied the violin. 1 had been playing the violin since I was four, and it was a very big part of my life. I spent a good number of hours a day practicing. Though I had dreams of excelling in some profession, I also secretly longed to play the violin professionally.
My music was my way of expressing myself. It was my music, an expression of my feelings. Some days there was nothing I couldn't do with my violin. I saw myself playing for thousands, never missing a note. Those were days when I felt confident, happy with who I was and what I was doing. At other times, I felt angry. Things weren't working out. I was disappointed. My music would match that frustration.
When I found out the Professional Arts School was holding auditions, I could barely hold in my excitement. They were plan­ning a show in the summer, and members of the afternoon youth groups were invited to try out. It meant a lot more practice time, but it was worth it. For me it was a step in the direction of becom­ing a real performer.
Monika had to put up with my spending a lot more time with my violin and a lot less time with her. She understood how impor­tant this was to me, though, and often sat with me while I prac­ticed, content just to watch and listen.
I spent a long time deciding what piece to play for my audi­tion. I wanted it to be a piece that I played well, but I also wanted to choose one with which I could express myself. Finally I chose "Spring" from Vivaldi's Four Seasons. The piece was moving in it­self, and I could play it well, but it was the actual season of spring that evoked so many emotions in me. My mama died in winter, and for that reason I saw the wintertime as a period of dread, a sym­bol of anguish. I failed to see beauty in the harsh bitterness of win­ter the way some people could. The cold had its way of snaking into my heart and making me feel like a stone. I would wait end­lessly for the winter months to go by, for the sick children to heal, for my heart to thaw once again.
As winter neared its end, I'd seek out signs of spring. The first melting of snow, the first budding of flowers, the first changes in the climate... But for me the real changes didn't occur only in na­ture. Along with the seasonal changes came a natural skip in my step. It became easier to smile and remain cheerful. I could finally shed my heavy outer clothes and felt light and breezy.
After classes on our first day of school, Monika and I went for a walk through Coral Grove. We chatted about the new teachers, moaned about the colossal amount of homework, and exchanged opinions about the seven new pupils who had joined us this year. Then Monika asked me if I ever thought much about the future.
"Well, what about the future? My career? My music? Our friendship?"
"In general. How do you picture yourself ten years from now?"
"I don't know. I see myself as a professional in my career, working hard yet feeling successful, knowing that the work I do, my small portion, is helping to make the world a better place. I see myself as an accomplished musician, getting my chance to make the kind of music I've always dreamed of making. And amid all this, I also have other dreams."
"Other dreams?"
"Well, they're not actually dreams. They're more like feelings. Feelings that I don't feel now, but wish I did, do you know what I mean?"
"Not exactly."
I struggled for words to explain. "Monika, do you always Safe in a way that you know that you are where you're supposed to be, and nothing in the world can harm you? Often I get the impression that I'm supposed to be somewhere else or someone else. And that fate is going to find me and bring me to where I should be."
Monika drew up her eyebrows in puzzlement. "Rachel, I'm not sure I understand. Aren't you happy here? You have everything you could possibly want  good grades, an audition at a famous music school. And you have a best friend."
Monika looked hurt. I got up and gave her a hug. "Oh, Monika, it's not you! It's just that I feel that something is amiss. I
feel out of place at times, and I can't figure out why. You're right. I do seem to have everything I want, and I treasure my gifts. Still, I'm afraid. I'm frightened that the things I seek, the things that make me happy, are not what I need to sustain me. I need something more.
"Don't think I'm selfish. I love my life. But don't you ever wonder why we were given life? And what we are expected to do with it?"
Monika glared at me. "Rachel, you sound like all those reli­gious fanatics that are always questioning. Why this? Why that? Why not accept what you have and realize that we were all given gifts? Life is what we do with those gifts. Rachel, be the best musi­cian the world has ever seen. Go and become a doctor. Do anything your heart desires, because you can. Once you begin to achieve what you've always wanted, you'll see that these feelings will go away. You're so impatient, Rachel. Everything takes time. You're not going to get anywhere overnight  except to tomorrow, that is."
I laughed. As we ate our picnic lunch, I told Monika that her words made me feel better, but they didn't really. Somehow I knew that my feeling of being lost did not come from impatience. It came from deep within, from another place. I didn't know where this place was, but when I'd find it, I'd know.
Monika got up and starting putting away the food. "We should head back now. It's getting dark."
I nodded and helped her wrap up the picnic tablecloth. We each took a bag and made our way out of the grove, through the iron gate, and down the path to home.
It was Monika who suggested we stop by Mrs. Grucza's bakery on the way.
"I want to buy some sweet rolls," she said as we rounded the corner. The bakery was one street ahead.
"I wonder if she has any lemon drops left."
When the bakery came into view, I couldn't believe my eyes. Monika stifled a cry and turned away, shielding her face against the acrid odor.
Our beloved bakery! Mrs. Grucza's sweet shop had been a landmark on Walecznych Street for many years. Monika told me that even after the blacksmith shop had closed down and the cor­ner fruit market had turned into a shoe store and long, long before old man Otto had ever started selling flowers on Sunday mornings, Mrs. Grucza's bakery had been there.
Monika and I had been regular customers. We knew that if we came early enough on Friday mornings, we could get rolls fresh from the oven  crispy on the outside and burning hot. Mrs. Grucza especially loved Monika, who always kept her visits long, entertaining the old lady with stories from school. As for me, I too loved Mrs. Grucza dearly. She knew that I liked lemon drops best and always saved me the leftovers.
Now I couldn't bear to look at it. The shop was covered with soot, the once colorful curtains torn and gone to ashes. The win­dows had melted and cracked; ugly gaping holes were left in their place. The foundation had collapsed, and the shop now leaned precariously to the left. It couldn't be more than minutes before it would crumble completely to the ground.
The sign adorning the shop that read "Grucza's" had been slashed and ripped off; in its place was a huge red swastika. Under­neath someone had sloppily scrawled, "Dreckige Judenl"
Filthy Jews.
"I've never seen anything like this before, have you?" My
voice came out high-pitched and funny.
"The swastika, Rachel," she pointed out. "This is the Nazis' do­ing."
I gulped. "Nazis? Like the ones Papa keeps telling me about? The ones that are hurting jews and "
"Oh, come on. We don't even know for sure that those rumors are true. Do you even know any Jews who were taken away? See, you don't. It could all be a lot of nonsense. No doubt this was done by some silly, hurtful schoolboys who are too foolish to know better. Stop shaking, Rachel! What's the matter with you?"
I was trembling uncontrollably. I couldn't look at the shop. But I knew it was there, taunting me. It's not only in Germany. It is here, too. They will come to Poland. Jews aren't safe anywhere.
Monika took my arm gently, and we turned to walk a different way. I followed quickly. "Don't worry," she whispered. "You're not religious, remember? To them you are a Roman Catholic, a gentile, just like me. We will call on Mrs. Grucza tomorrow. It is truly a shame that this should happen to dear Mrs. Grucza, but you are safe in Poland. You'll see. Your papa will tell you the same thing. Go home and ask him."
When I got home, Papa was in his study, buried underneath a mound of newspapers and books. He didn't see me come in. I hated to disturb Papa while he was working, so I decided to eat something and talk to Papa later.
I took out a dinner roll with jam and some milk and sat down to eat. Absent-mindedly 1 picked up a page of the Dziennik Poznanski (the Poznan Daily), which had fallen on the floor, and skimmed the headlines. "Local news....hmm...Hitler..."
Hitler? My hands tightened on the paper. "Charismatic speech yesterday...won over the hearts of thousands...Nazi political party gains hundreds of new members..." That didn't sound so bad. It certainly didn't sound like a man who was employing his powers to harm Jews. Perhaps Monika was right. Maybe the rumors were just that  rumors. I laughed out loud at my imagination.
Papa came in and kissed my forehead. "What is so funny in the paper that makes my Rachel laugh like this?"
"Nothing, Papa. I am just laughing at myself. I worry so much, like you, Papa. It's nothing. Papa?"
"Remember the other evening when you were telling me about the Nazis? Monika and I passed by Mrs. Grucza's old shop on the corner of Walecznych. We saw that it had been burned down. By Nazis."
"There are no Nazis in Poland," Papa muttered.
"Papa, they painted a swastika on it."
Papa's face turned white.
I was feeling more and more uneasy. "Monika says it was schoolboys playing pranks. We will call on Mrs. Grucza and find out."
Papa grabbed my shoulders. "Promise me, Rachel. Promise me you'll stay away from Mrs. Grucza and her shop. You're not to walk near Walecznych again!"
"All right. All right, Papa, I won't. But what is this? Why do you look so pale? Is it because you are afraid of the Nazis? Look at the paper, Papa. It doesn't seem like Hitler and his parties are mon­sters. It portrays them as decent, human "
"Oh, Rachel, my daughter. How I want to protect you. Yet I know I cannot shelter you. Don't read the newspaper. It will only confuse you, my dear. Just listen to me. Stay away from Mrs. Grucza. Stay away from the swastikas."
"I will, Papa. But please, I have to know. What is going on? Are we in danger?"
"My child, let me ask you something. Are you brave?"
I looked down at my hands, which were folded on my lap. "Not very, Papa."
"I think you are. If the time came for you to be brave, I think you'd be quite brave. But it is easier to be courageous if you don't know everything. So I have told you all that you need to know. I will tell you nothing more. careful."
Papa bent to kiss my forehead. "I love you."
He turned and slowly climbed the stairs.



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