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Music of the Soul
By Ruth Benjamin
Rabbi Yisroel and Sara Feige Shusterman and their family.
And to my family: Uzi, Devorah, Chaya, Dovi, Rivkie, Lozzy, and Nechama
Shinan, Tzfon HaShamron, Israel; Yirmy, Rivky, and Esty van Halem, Brooklyn, New York;
and Yitzchok, Sara, Rikal, and Adina I.evy, Brooklyn, New York.
And to my late husband: Dr. Boroch Dovber Benjamin, z"l.
With thanks to Elaine Jay.
Published by: TARGUM PRESS, INC. 22700 W. Eleven Mile Rd. Southfield, MI 48034 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Fax toll-free: 888-298-9992
Distributed by: FELDHEIM PUBLISHERS 200 Airport Executive Park Nanuet, NY 10954 www.feldheim.com
They were the wonder couple: Sara, a gifted artist and musician, and her fiancÙ Lionel, a professional violinist with an endearing smile and a thoughtful personality. The fact that Sara was a South African Jew, and Lionel a gentile of German extraction, meant little to either of them.
But a chance encounter with a Holocaust survivor and a harrowing trip to Germany to meet Lionel's family leave Sara changed forever. And so begins Ruth Benjamin's dramatic, action-packed story that will take the reader on a breathtaking adventure through three continents, through secrets of the past and hopes for the future.
Music of the Soul is the tale of searching Sara, seeking her lost heritage; Lionel, looking for meaning in life; and two young children, separated from their families and from each other by a terrible tragedy, being sought by those who would save them and by others who mean them terrible harm.
Ruth Benjamin has been entertaining, and touching, readers for many years with her readable and moving novels. In Music of the Soul she once again gives us a tale both heartwarming and inspiring, unexpected and exciting. Music of the Soul is a symphony in words, a wonderful new addition to her work and to our bookshelves.
The train seemed to gather speed as the border drew nearer, almost as if it felt a certain relief to be approaching new territory. Sara, the single occupant of one of the train's compartments, removed a brush from her overnight bag and, turning to the mirror, started to tidy her long chestnut curls. She added touches to her makeup and looked at her reflection with satisfaction. She would soon be there, and perhaps the scheduled meeting would help her solve some of the mystery.
Sara shivered as she turned toward the window and peered out through the shutters. The snow was falling heavily outside. She would have to dress warmly. She had never been able to get used to this kind of cold. In South Africa it was very different. Even in midwinter, it was only occasionally necessary to wear a thick jacket at night. When she had first stepped off the plane into Europe's winter, she had hardly believed such intense cold could exist. But now she was beginning to find it more tolerable.
She closed the shutter and pulled her concentration back to her heated compartment. She was looking forward to this meeting. It had been totally unexpected. She wondered why there had been such an insistence on secrecy. The man had taken all kinds of precautions to make sure they would not be seen together. Why the mystery?
She would know soon. She was to meet him in a small town, ten minutes across the border. Sara hoped the end of her search had finally come. He certainly had led her to believe she was close to it.
Sara started to feel sleepy, but she jerked herself awake. She was nearly there and had to start arming herself against the snow. She retrieved her ski jacket, put it on, and zipped it to the top. Immediately she was flooded with warmth. She stood up and reached for her suitcase, which was on the luggage rack above her.
As she set her suitcase on the floor beside her, Sara heard a soft knock at the door, and a woman came into the compartment carrying two bags.
"This is it," the woman said to herself in German. She put the bags down heavily on the seat opposite Sara and sat down with a loud sigh.
Sara frowned. It was strange for someone to enter a compartment when the train was not at a station. The last stop had been quite far back. This was a semi-express train, and they did not stop at every town.
The woman looked at her carefully for a few minutes and then smiled.
"English?" she asked in a heavy German accent.
"Yes," said Sara, sitting back down with her suitcase at her side. She did not feel like explaining that she was South African.
"The border is twenty minutes away," the woman said, still with a smile. But why didn't her smile reach her light blue eyes? They remained cold, almost watchful.
Sara just nodded. She didn't really feel like talking. She wanted to return to her thoughts and plans.
"You are meeting someone?" the woman asked, when Sara didn't respond.
"Yes," replied Sara curtly. She cringed inwardly at her slip. She remembered that she was supposed to keep the meeting a secret.
"Someone special?" asked the woman, ignoring Sara's obvious reluctance to speak.
"No, no," said Sara, "nothing like that. Just business."
"So you are going to the city."
"No, I am getting off very soon," said Sara, annoyance creeping into her voice. She wanted to tell the woman to mind her own business, but she stopped herself before the words were out of her mouth. She didn't like to be rude. And the woman was probably just trying to make conversation to make the journey seem shorter.
"I am getting off at the first town beyond the border," Sara said, trying to act a little more friendly. | "That is soon," said the woman. "You haven't much time left."
"I know," said Sara, looking at her watch. "I've got to finish putting my things together." She stood up and shivered. "It's cold out there."
An odd expression crossed the woman's face, making Sara uneasy, but within seconds it was gone. Perhaps she'd imagined it. "In the summer, it is very beautiful and green here. Quite warm. Will you be here then?"
"I don't think so," said Sara. "I plan to go back soon."
"Maybe you will be here longer than you think," said the woman. Was it her imagination playing tricks, or did this smiling woman suddenly seem harder, more sinister? The woman looked pleasant enough. But it was her eyes that worried Sara.
Finally, there was blessed silence; silence, except for the sound of the train's wheels speeding along the tracks. Even this noise sounded a little sinister. Was she losing her mind? Why was she afraid? Perhaps it was this upcoming meeting.
Strange that the man had made her travel across Italy to meet him. But he had promised to help her, and for some reason he could not come to Milan. So she had agreed.
The silence did not last long. Once again, the woman broke into her reverie. "Sara Rosenberg," she read the name on Sara's suitcase. "You are Jewish?"
"Yes," said Sara.
"We didn't know," said the woman. "It happened right beside us and we didn't know. We knew nothing about it." Her voice suddenly became thick with emotion. "Will you believe me that we didn't know?"
Sara hesitated, embarrassed. What was she to say?
The woman opened her handbag and took out a box of chocolates. She opened the box and held it out to Sara. "You would like one? Special dark chocolates?"
"No," said Sara. "I have to watch my weight."
"You, watch your weight?" the woman exclaimed. "But you are lovely, just right." She pointed to one of the molded chocolates. "This is a star," she said, "for success in everything you do."
Sara began to refuse again, but the commanding expression in the woman's face and the box outstretched determinedly before her weakened her resistance. And she did love chocolate.
She popped the star into her mouth and sucked it slowly. It was delicious. It made her feel warm and relaxed. But wait: it tasted peculiar. Maybe she should spit it out? But the woman was watching her; she couldn't be so rude.
Sara began to cough. She controlled it with difficulty. All the while the woman was watching her with those cold, hawk-like eyes.
Suddenly she felt heavy, as if her limbs were not her own. Wide awake a moment ago, now she wanted to sleep. The clickity-clack of the train mesmerized her, and, slowly, her eyes closed until she fell into a drugged sleep.
The woman acted with speed. She opened the door of the compartment and called out to a tall, fair young man standing a few meters away in the corridor.
"We are nearly there," he hissed. "What took you so long?"
"It took time," said the woman. "I had to persuade her to eat the chocolate, and then it took time to work."
"There was enough in there to stupefy an ox," the young man grumbled.
While he was speaking, the woman opened the window, letting in an icy blast of air. The train was ascending a mountainside. There was a deep gorge below it.
"Here comes Tirs," the man noted. "Just beyond it is the best place."
Together they picked up the sleeping young woman. They slipped her quickly and quietly out the window and over the embankment. Without a backward glance at the way her body fell into the snow and rolled down the mountainside, they set about searching through her belongings, putting them in disarray.
"Her passport is not here," the young man fretted. "You have found it?"
"No, but we haven't got time to look for it."
The woman put her hand into her pocket and pulled out a packet of pills, quickly checking the label.
She tucked it into Sara's suitcase. "The chocolate had a lot of this stuff in it. Probably dead before she hit the ground."
"Could you help me get my carry-on into the overhead compartment?" Sara obligingly took the case from the elderly lady Mrs. Hannah Hirsch according to the label on the bag and stored it above their heads. Then she stowed her own rather bulky tote bag and laid her jacket and the lady's coat on top. Mrs. Hirsch's seat was by the window; Sara had the aisle seat. Both hoped the seat in the middle would not be occupied.
Sara flipped back her long chestnut hair and settled into her seat. She would really have liked a window seat, but she had arrived late at the airport and they were all taken. She would have to watch the scenery past her two neighbors.
She gave a long sigh as she sat back in her seat. Mrs. Hirsch smiled.
"You are tired?" she asked. "Have you been traveling a lot?"
"Not traveling," said Sara. "Studying for exams tired
me out, and a concert came right in the middle. Now I have a month's holiday, but I have all sorts of things to do during that time."
"But it's only June," said Mrs. Hirsch. "Surely you have vacation for many weeks."
"Not in South Africa," Sara replied. "It is winter here now."
"Oh, yes, of course. Your summer is in November and December."
"That's right." Sara smiled and busied herself with the literature in the seat pocket in front of her.
"I found it very interesting in South Africa," said Mrs. Hirsch. "I was here for three weeks, you know, visiting a great-niece of mine. You have a lot of trouble here now, don't you."
"Well, yes, there's been an increase in the violence," said Sara. "But the changes are good. It gives everyone a fair chance at last."
"Perhaps. Not everyone agrees."
At that moment, a rather overweight young man stopped right next to Sara, peered at his ticket, and compared it to the numbers engraved above her seat.
"Oh, it isn't here," he muttered. "Another four seats on. Sorry," he said as he tripped over Sara's camera case.
"Sorry," Sara apologized, yanking it onto her lap. "I shouldn't really keep it here."
The young man smiled at her encouragingly, but when he caught sight of her engagement ring, he moved off.
Both women gave a sigh of relief; their middle seat was safe. The stream of passengers was lessening, and it looked as if the plane was not going to be full.
"Would you mind if I got my portfolio and instrument from the storage compartment near the door of the plane and kept them here? I would feel much better if they were with me. I would hate it if they were damaged or stolen." Sara looked anxiously at the elderly woman.
"A musical instrument?" she asked.
"By me, any musical instrument is welcome. Unless," Mrs. Hirsch added with a twinkle in her eye, "it isn't a harp, is it? It wouldn't fit."
"No, it isn't," replied Sara, smiling. "Though it is fairly unusual. It's an oboe."
"An oboe," repeated Mrs. Hirsch, looking at Sara with interest. "You play the oboe?"
"Yes, I do. I've been playing it since I was eleven. Even though they are in the medical field, my parents are both very musical. Of course, I had to learn piano first, but my mother had always loved the oboe, and so she tracked down someone who would give me lessons. I love it. I wouldn't stop it for anything."
Sara waited for Mrs. Hirsch to ask her if the oboe was a kind of clarinet, but she didn't. It was a question she was often asked. Yes, they were related, but the two instruments and the music they produced were very different. People knew so little about oboes that someone had even asked her once if the oboe was a kind of trumpet.
Mrs. Hirsch did not seem at all ignorant about oboes. She remarked instead, "Did you know the oboe descends from the shawm? That's an ancient Middle Eastern instrument. Variations of it are quite prevalent in folk music. And in Afghanistan and Turkey they play a kind of oboe called a zurna."
Sara, pleased at the woman's knowledge of her instrument, made an appropriate reply, then excused herself and got up to retrieve her precious portfolio and instrument. She installed them carefully on the middle seat, apologizing that the portfolio took up so much room.
"I've never actually met anyone who played the oboe, but I do listen to the music often. I would really like to hear you play it."
Before Sara could respond, the FASTEN SEAT BELTS sign flashed on. They turned their attention to the front of the their section, where two stewardesses were demonstrating the safety precautions necessary for the plane trip. Mrs. Hirsch shuddered as the stewardess outlined the escape routes. "I hate this," she whispered, looking anxiously around her. "I hope it won't be long before take-off."
The lights on the plane flickered, and a rather indistinct voice came over the loudspeakers.
"South African Airways welcomes you aboard and thanks you for choosing our airline. Our flight to Zurich will be nonstop, and we will be traveling at approximately six hundred miles per hour at an altitude of thirty-three thousand feet. Please see that your seat belts are fastened and, if you are sitting in the smoking section, that your cigarettes are extinguished. Our route will take us over Africa, across the Mediterranean, and then on to Zurich. We will let you know details of the flight from time to time. We wish you a pleasant journey."
While the pilot spoke, the plane had been moving backwards and had now stopped. The engines began to rev, and the plane shuddered a little. Suddenly, it was moving forward, gathering speed. Sara felt a surge of excitement as the plane took off. She noticed Mrs. Hirsch's hands grip the armrest by her seat, and the woman's face was pale. The old woman was facing front, as if afraid to look out the window.
The screen in front of them displayed the ever-increasing speed and altitude.
"We seem to be going up very fast," Mrs. Hirsch murmured.
"Look at the ground," said Sara, pointing to the window.
Mrs. Hirsch did so and grimaced. Her hands tightened their grip on the arm rest. As the plane leveled out, Mrs. Hirsch finally began to relax.
"Thank goodness that's over," she said. "You know, when you are as old as I am and have been in all kinds of planes, you feel a certain fear at take-off."
After almost half an hour, Sara and Mrs. Hirsch settled down to talk. The plane was flying at a steady pace, except for the occasional minor turbulence. People had unfastened their seat belts, and most of the other passengers were either sleeping or browsing through the airline magazine and duty-free brochures. Some were simply staring at the screen at the front of the cabin, a few wearing the earphones supplied.
"You wanted to hear me play the oboe, Mrs. Hirsch?" asked Sara.
"I would love to, but wouldn't it cause a bit...."
Sara smiled, digging into her inside pocket for a small Walkman. "This would be easier. I have a tape of me playing a duet at the concert I mentioned."
Mrs. Hirsch, obviously not used to earphones, put them on gingerly. As the music began, she relaxed, a slow smile spreading across her face. Sara watched the elderly woman's visage become more animated as she listened.
When the song finished, she removed the earphones and handed them to Sara. "That was beautiful! The oboe is such a delicate, pure instrument. I think it's one of the most beautiful I have ever heard. The violinist, he is very good, so sensitive and skilled. Who is he?"
"My fiance," said Sara happily. "We are getting married in December, after I've finished my degree."
"That's wonderful!" said Mrs. Hirsch, her eyes glistening. "You will be able to play together forever."
Sara laughed. "Wait. I have a picture of him," she said.
She delved into another pocket and pulled out a photo of a young man, fair-haired and smiling. He did indeed have a sensitivity about him.
"He's very good looking," said the woman. "Have you known each other for long?"
"Two years," said Sara. "At least, I have known him well for two years. I knew of him before. Everyone in the university knew him because of his violin-playing."
"What is his name?" asked the woman.
"A German?" There was a new sharpness to the old woman's voice.
For some reason, Sara found herself blushing. "Yes," she said. "He is German. But he has been in South Africa since he was eight. He and his mother came to Johannesburg after his parents' divorce. They lived here for a number of years until his mother decided to return to Germany, but Lionel was studying for matric and his whole education would have been upset. He boarded with a school friend and then he got a scholarship for his Bachelor of Music at the university. Once he finished his Bachelor of Music he went for his master's. That was when I met him."
"I'm surprised you're not spending your vacation with him," Mrs. Hirsch remarked.
"Oh, well, Lionel's doing a concert tour in South Africa, and there's an art conference in Switzerland I wanted to attend. Afterward, my father's cousins invited me to spend a few days with them in England. Then I will be going to Berlin to meet Lionel's father and then to Munich to see his mother."
"Have you been to Germany before?" asked Mrs. Hirsch.
"No, never. But I hear it is very beautiful."
"I have heard that, too," said Mrs. Hirsch. "But I don't remember it that way." Her voice trailed off, and a strange, almost panicked look crossed her face. Sara was taken aback by the sudden change. It dawned on her that Mrs. Hirsch was probably Jewish, and she was just the age to have suffered through the war.
Sara's face became hot. She recalled how she had I pushed away the strong feelings she had had about going out with Lionel because he was German. Suddenly, she did not want Mrs. Hirsch, her new acquaintance, to find -out she was Jewish.
Mrs Hirsch made no comment. Abruptly, she asked, "Where do your relatives live in England?"
"Stamford Hill. They've lived there for years."
Stamford Hill had a large Orthodox Jewish population, Mrs. Hirsch thought. But, she reflected, there were probably plenty of non-Jews there as well.
"Have you ever been there before?"
"Once, but I don't remember it very well," Sara said, putting away the picture of her fiancÙ and the Walkman. "I was four years old at the time. All I remember is that it was snowing. One never sees snow in South Africa."
Their conversation was cut short by the stewardess serving drinks. Sara was relieved. It wouldn't have taken much more for Mrs. Hirsch to discover the truth.
The next hour passed in silence.
Sara was awakened by a stewardess who informed Sara she had permission from the captain to visit the cockpit. Sara was glad she had found the courage to ask as she boarded the plane.
Quietly she got up from her seat so as not to disturb the dozing Mrs. Hirsch and followed the stewardess along the aisle. Although this was not Sara's first plane ride, she had never had the courage to ask to see the cockpit before.
They went up some stairs and were immediately surrounded by luxury.
"This is the first-class section," explained the stewardess. She led Sara through a curtain into the cockpit.
There were three men seated in the cockpit. One, who turned out to be the pilot, was speaking and at the same time keeping a watchful eye on the other two. The man next to him, the copilot, seemed to be doing the actual flying. Even though the plane was on automatic pilot, his level of concentration was intense. Behind the pilot and copilot sat a man who seemed to be in charge of checking instruments and security.
Awed, Sara looked around at the hundreds of dials, switches, and connections. Every bit of space on the ceiling and walls of the cockpit seemed to be taken up with dials and switches. What struck Sara was that, except for the occasional floor tremor, the plane seemed to be perfectly still, suspended in space. There was no impression of movement at all, only of absolute stillness all around.
"We don't seem to be moving," she exclaimed out loud.
"It is because we are so high that there is nothing we can relate our movements to," said the pilot. He went on to explain the purpose of some of the instruments.
"Where is the famous black box?" Sara asked impulsively. She had heard that whenever there was a plane crash the black box was used to discover the source of the crash to prevent it from happening again.
The pilot smiled. "It isn't here it's in the tail of the plane. All it does is take recordings from some of the instruments, and," he pointed upward to the center of the ceiling, "it can record a half-hour's worth of conversation. That can be very useful after a crash to figure out what was happening before the instruments failed."
"And what's more," added one of the copilots, "the box isn't even black it's bright orange. 'Black box' sounds more dramatic, though, doesn't it."
When Sara left the cockpit, it seemed strange to be aware of the movement of the plane once again.
"It felt as if the plane were standing still, somewhere far above the clouds," she said to the stewardess. "It was so strange."
"It always feels like that," replied the stewardess. "As if time is standing still."
Sara suddenly shuddered. Here she was, suspended far above the clouds, far above the world, and all at once she felt as if she were moving toward something new and different, as if she was about to discover something startling about herself in relation to this vast empty space. It was almost frightening. She returned to her seat in silence, wishing the feeling would go away.
Mrs. Hirsch, now awake and reading a book, looked at her curiously, and Sara explained where she had been. "Oh, how was it?" Mrs. Hirsch asked.
"It was really interesting! The plane seemed to stand still over there. It was as if time and space had stopped. I can't describe the feeling."
The time went by as they read and chatted. A meal was served, and Sara noted that Mrs. Hirsch had ordered kosher food. This made her feel uncomfortable. But why should it? She had never concerned herself as to whether something was kosher. Neither did her parents. The woman belonged to a different generation.
"Your fiance will miss you while you are away, I'm sure," Mrs Hirsch commented as they ate.
"Next year will be his turn to go overseas. He's going on a tour to Europe to Italy, Germany, France, and even Russia and Poland. We will be married by then, so maybe I will go with him."
"That should be extremely interesting for you both," said Mrs. Hirsch. "I went to Poland a few months ago. I had never thought in all my life that I would ever go back there."
"You were born there?" asked Sara.
"No, I was born in Germany, actually," Mrs. Hirsch said. "I did live in Poland for a time, though if you could call that living. I was there for three years."
"When was that?"
"It was during the war. We were taken there by trains, in cattle cars. But you don't want to hear about that. I don't want to bother you with my memories." Mrs. Hirsch once more opened her book.
Sara was silent. Something made her want to hear what she had never really heard. She knew there had really been concentration camps, but that was it. For some reason, now she wanted to know more and it looked as if this woman could tell her.
"Where were you in Poland?" she asked.
"Mostly in a place called Auschwitz."
Even Sara had heard of Auschwitz. She didn't know what to say.
Mrs. Hirsch gazed at the young woman for a moment, then closed her book with a snap. "Sara, do you know what happened to the Jews during the Second World War?"
Sara stammered, "I...I think so. I have heard some things about it, but I suppose not much."
"Didn't your parents ever tell you? Didn't you learn about it in school?"
Sara avoided her direct gaze. "No, not really. I sort of learned a bit about it from magazines and things."
"I see," said Mrs Hirsch. "If you want, I can tell you."
Sara suddenly felt sick, but something inside her forced her to speak. After all, she would never meet Mrs. Hirsch again, and she could forget everything she said, if it was too difficult to remember. Was it morbid fascination pushing her, or perhaps something deeper? Whatever the reason, che found herself asking, "How could you go back there? To Auschwitz, I mean? Isn't the place no longer there?"
The woman sighed, and for a moment Sara thought she was not going to answer. When she spoke, Sara could see it was difficult for her to talk about it. Sara began to feel guilty for pushing the subject. But, after all, Mrs. Hirsch had brought it up herself.
Mrs. Hirsch began to speak, a faraway look in her eyes: "All these years, Auschwitz was behind the Iron Curtain, tucked away where the Western world could not see it. I think in our imaginations we felt it somehow no longer existed, that it was a part of some monstrous nightmare that would haunt us all forever, that the place, Auschwitz, had vanished at the end of the war.
"But when Eastern Europe opened up, I realized that all these places and their horror still existed, that Auschwitz was still there. The buildings were there. The gas chambers were there. I felt I had to go back, to see for myself." Her voice grew softer. "Some of us cannot go back and some of us had to go back. But it was hard, perhaps one of the hardest things I have ever done in the last forty years.
"As I said, I was in Auschwitz for three years. But it could have been for a hundred years for the effect it had on me, on all of us."
Sara nodded, wishing now that she hadn't asked, wishing that Mrs. Hirsch would stop talking. But the old woman did not seem able to stop.
"It was difficult at that time to cling to one's faith, but at the same time it was all we had to cling to. And our faith was actually strengthened by it.
"The things we saw, the things we experienced. You cannot imagine it, Sara, from anything you've read. No film could do justice to the horrors that actually occurred.
"People we had known all our lives died in front of our eyes, unable to perform for themselves the most basic acts to retain even a shred of human dignity."
"Did you all know what was happening?" asked Sara. "At the beginning, not really, though many said goodbye on their way to the gas chambers, knowing that something dreadful was going to happen to them."
"There was a time when I envied the people going to the gas chambers. I knew that their suffering was about to end, and they would die al kiddush Hashem, giving up their lives because they were Jewish, while the rest of us probably die far less nobly in the rotting stench of hell that was our lives. At that stage, it did not even to me that there would be any life for us. I had become too used to death as being more real than life and life as being worse than death."
Tears had sprung to her eyes, and she did not try to stop them.
"The holiest women in our generation died there under the most terrible conditions," she said. "Our rebbetzin, spared from the gas chambers to be our inspiration in those dark days, contracted typhus, and she rotted away before our eyes. Through it all, she did not lose her faith. She made me promise that I would dedicate my life to Yiddishkeit and to the rebuilding of the Jewish people. Somehow she knew I would survive."
Sara shivered. Why was Mrs. Hirsch revealing her deepest feelings? Did she suspect she, Sara, was a Jew?
"And you know what, Sara?" added Mrs. Hirsch. "That rebbetzin's name was Sarah, like you." Sara could find no words. She did not want to hear anymore.
The woman seemed to be in her own world as she went on to describe the Auschwitz camp. Sara had thought these horrors were history, with relevance only in books or, at best, on certain memorial days. Why had Mrs. Hirsch insisted on sharing her memories with her? It would have been tolerable if these had been distant memories from the forties, but today! A few months ago this Jewish survivor had been back there! It was real, too real.
Almost as if compelled to do so, Mrs. Hindi described the exhibition of objects belonging to people murdered in the camps. She went on and on, and what she was saying wrenched Sara's soul, especially when she spoke of the children. Would she never stop? And yet, a part of Sara wanted to know. So Sara listened as the old woman spoke, as she relived some of the horrors.
"Those shoes, those clothes.... There were children's shoes there, children's clothes. One pair of shoes must have been a toddler's first pair. So tiny. He must have been so proud of them. And what happened to him? Gassed like all the others."
Tears were streaming down the woman's face now. Sara tried to calm her, to stop her flood of emotions for her own sake, but she continued.
"The Nazis were not human! They were not even animals! Animals kill for food. These people killed because they were sadists, because they liked killing and torturing and hurting.
"How can a person, a nation, become so corrupt? How can a nation so advanced in scientific development and culture stoop to this? How can a nation that produced such incredibly beautiful music fall to such depths?"
Sara felt as if Mrs. Hirsch had stuck a knife into her heart. Did she realize what she was saying? She had listened to Sara's tape and seen Lionel's picture! Didn't she realize how much her words hurt?
The woman started to cry again. "I'm sorry," she wept. "I'm so sorry. It's just that that place said so much to all of us. We were there when great rabbis and teachers and leaders died, when children who had spent their lives learning only Torah gave themselves up with Shema on their lips, when mothers and grandmothers and sisters and daughters were treated in the most shameful way, when Jews, simple Jews who hardly knew Torah, were killed just for being Jews.
"That place had watched it all. That place had absorbed it all, and those of us who went back could all feel it."
Mrs. Hirsch went on and on, as if the floodgates of her emotions had opened, telling Sara things which she could not have imagined in her wildest dreams. Eventually she stopped, exhausted.
"Sara," she said quietly, "maybe, perhaps, one day you will see one of these places for yourself."
Sara did not answer. She had heard too much.
The main lights had been switched off on the plane, and most of the shutters were down. All around was darkness, broken only by the individual lights of passengers who were still reading.
It was not long before most of the passengers were asleep. Mrs Hirsch stayed awake, though, alone with the memories she had evoked. She knew well, had seen and heard, how people had been affected by visiting the death camps, how they had been shattered to the core by the atrocities perpetrated against their people, how their Jewish souls had been tortured in trying to find an answer as to why this had happened.
Mrs. Hirsch had taken the opportunity during Sara's visit to the cockpit to take a closer look at Sara's surname on her instrument case. There was no doubt about it. Sara was Jewish. Imagine, a Jewish girl marrying a German. She shuddered.
Perhaps Sara would go to one of these camps to see for herself. Would it make her change her mind about marrying the German? Would she feel, as others had felt, that her neshamah was being torn to shreds? But she could not discuss this with Sara. She had probably shocked her quite badly already. She looked at the young woman beside her, a beautiful, talented Jewish girl. Mrs. Hirsch could see by the pallor of her face and the redness around her eyelids that her reminiscences had affected Sara deeply. She seemed a sensitive young woman, and perhaps she had been too harsh to share her memories with her. But she had felt it was important.
It was strange that world politics had developed to the point that almost fifty years after the outbreak of war, Western tourists could now, en masse, visit the places of the Holocaust, places which had previously seemed to exist only in memory and in books.
The next morning, Mrs. Hirsch was bright, witty, and friendly. She seemed to have put aside the horrors she'd described the night before.
"We are now approaching Zurich. Please fasten your seat belts and prepare for landing. The time is 7 A.M., and the ground temperature is fifteen degrees centigrade."
As soon as the fasten seat belts signs switched off, the passengers started putting together their bags, coats, and parcels. Before they departed, Mrs. Hirsch took Sara's hand in hers. "Perhaps we will meet again. You never know what God has in store for us."
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