Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. This week’s snippet immediately follows last week’s, and closes this section of this chapter. Soldiers from the U.S. Third Army have arrived at Buchenwald in response to several radio messages sent by the camp’s robust resistance, and two of them have given their chronograph watches to 15-year-old Kálmán and 14-year-old Móric.
Móric has just announced he doesn’t feel well enough to keep standing, and lowered himself onto the ground. As the youngest and most slightly-built member of their original group of twenty-four, he’s survived so long because the older boys took care of him. Kálmán surreptitiously carried Móric on his back during the homestretch of the march to Buchenwald, and when Móric became too sick and weak even for the boys’ brick-laying detail, their Communist Kapo hid him in the typhus ward.
Virdzsi (VEER-jee) is Kálmán’s brother Virgil, named after the great Roman poet. As it turns out, Virgil may have survived after all.
“That’s okay.” Kálmán knelt beside him and put his arm around Móric. “You’re still standing tall and strong. The Americans came in time to save us, and as soon as we’re well enough to travel, we can go home and start planning our immigration to Palestine.”
“It won’t be easy to go back into the world. I don’t think we’ll ever be normal again.”
Kálmán put his other arm around Móric and rocked him back and forth. “It never is easy to go from one extreme to another. Like Virdzsi’s namesake said, ‘The gates of Hell are open night and day; smooth the descent, and easy is the way; but to return, and view the cheerful skies, in this the task and mighty labor lies.’”
Virgil Reading the Aeneid to Augustus, Octavia, and Livia, Jean-Baptiste Wicar, 1790–93
When Kálmán’s family was taken to the Abony ghetto last May, one of the items strewn across their front yard was his mother’s gold-leaf, illuminated Aeneid, fluttering open to a passage about how everyone’s final day is fixed. When Kálmán returns home, that book is one of the items given back to him by some Catholic friends who went around recovering and hiding as many things as possible from their Jewish neighbors before they were plundered by enemies.