It was November 29th, a cold and gloomy day that began with a heavy snowfall and the beauty of the snow glistening on the trees greeted us as we trudged our way to the Weiss’ farm. When we arrived the wondrous smell of food greeted us and before we began our lessons, we were treated to a magnificent breakfast. I felt it was a celebration and the abundance of that morning was a stark contrast to the pall that had been cast over our lives for the past few months. Mrs. Weiss was almost too happy and as she served us I observed that she seemed to be forcing herself to be in such a festive mood. Halfway through the meal, Mr. Weiss entered the room, shook off the snow from his clothing and summoned Mrs. Weiss into the parlor. I immediately thought that he was cross with Mrs. Weiss for providing such an extravagant breakfast without any reason, but apparently it was much more serious than that. Mr. Weiss had received a notice that he and his family were to prepare for relocation within three weeks and they were ordered under the threat of severe penalties to go toa the city where living arrangements would be made for them. Mrs. Weiss apparently gasped when he told her the news, but contained herself and upon her reentering the kitchen, she tried to recast the smiling face that made you want to stay in her presence forever. Her face was changed into the tormented look of a victim. We continued to eat the delicious delicacies that she had prepared, but the taste was no longer as sweet as before. I ate without tasting knowing that something bad was happening, but without any way to ask, I chewed and waited for whatever it was. Our lessons were shortened on that morning and Rachel and I walked home in total silence. We knew that upon our arrival there would be news of a proportion that we did not want to hear, and unfortunately we were right. After taking off our coats and hats, we were summoned to the kitchen, and my father urged us to sit by the roaring fire so that we could warm ourselves. My mother sat motionless at the kitchen table and I could tell that she had been crying. I smiled at mama, hoping to comfort whatever she had heard from papa, but she quickly looked away and I was frightened by this because never before in my life had she done this. My father began by saying that he had received some news from the local authorities that would affect all of us. He stated that we would have to leave the farm for a while, but that as soon as the war was over we would be able to return home. He mentioned that this was common in situations like this and it was only temporary and that we should not be overly concerned by this. The words fell on deaf ears because by the look on both of their faces I knew that this was far more serious than he had portrayed. Rachel began to cry, and my mother was jolted out of her stupor and quickly moved to reassure my sister and the rest of us. Rebecka asked if she could take her favorite goat with her and my father gently told her that he would see if that were possible. The rest of that day and the following week seems only to be a blur now that I look back and it was tragic but blissful in retrospect for what was about to befall all of us.
The bitter cold of that December morning is indelibly branded in my brain and I can still hear the swishing of the horses’ hooves as we plowed our way to the road that would be the beginning of our relocation. That word creates nausea in me because the so-called relocation was the first pretense that would lead to the ultimate horror, the torture and death of a way of life. We talked in muted tones along the way, but my mother, who had recaptured her indomitable will, led us in singing folk songs and read passages from the Holy Book that were intended to inspire us. She showed great character in her desire to both distract and focus on what she believed would be helpful, but the images of so many others proceeding to the city constantly took our attention away from her valiant attempts. We were the silhouettes of a people wandering through the snow, going to a destiny fraught with the rumors that had become real in the last few months. A trip which usually takes about six hours is slow to the point that my father decides that it is foolish to continue this trek in the dark. The roads are jammed with others who I presume to be Jews winding their way to the city. Some of the blank faces in the wagons are known to me, but the most response that I receive from any of them that I acknowledge is the mere shrug of the shoulders or a trance like staring without emotion. The silence of this trip is eerie and without the occasional sound of the horses or the wagon wheels straining against the snow and ice it would be totally silent. Never has so large a group been without song or chatter, this is the nation of music and dance, encapsulated and frozen in a web that deprives them of their natural gait and bent. What is hovering over all of us that has already muted who we are and why do we seem powerless to deal with these changes? My brain is exploding with questions that beg to be asked and answered, but the deference to those I love forbids their escaping the recesses of my mind. I hope that this is just a dream that will find me in a cold sweat upon waking, but happy that the goblins were unreal, and the harmony of the agricultural community has been untouched all along.
The driving wind assures me that this is not a dream and the future will not be the waking in a warm room to the surrounding sounds that I love. This is a living nightmare that is orchestrated, but unknown by those that are dedicated to carry out the plans. All of this tortuous reflection is fractured by the words of my father who is shouting to the Weiss wagon to follow us when we reach the next fork in the road. I remember that this fork leads to an area that is protected from the cold winds by a series of caves. I gather that it is father’s intention to spend the night in one of those caves and to proceed to the city in the morning. Sliding down a hill that we once picnicked near does not trigger fond memories because I am obsessed with the cold and the unknown fate that awaits us in the morning. As I help
the children settle into the caves, I am wounded by the total lack of understanding on their cherubic faces. They are so young and yet they are caught in a net of insanity that has forced them from their homes to go on a journey in the cold night to a cave. The once ruddy cheeks are pale and the shivering is not impeded by the layer of clothes that mama has placed them in. I try to be extra kind to them and to make it sound like we are launching into a wonderful adventure, but even the tiny hearts of the young see through my ruse. Once I have them settled I follow father to find any scraps of wood that we may use to start a fire. There are many broken boughs from the weight of the snow and before long we are all situated around a roaring fire that abates the freezing winds that howl outside the cave. After a paltry supper I drift slowly into the fitful sleep that leaves me more tired in the morning than when I went to sleep. The morning is strikingly bright and temporarily diminishes where we are and where we are going. The clarity of the sky and the absence of the prior winds breathe some hope into this mass of humanity and momentarily there is the sense that we will have some control over our destiny.