Posted in 1940s, Historical fiction, Shoah, Writing

WeWriWa—Precious protection

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

I’ve gone back to my hiatused WIP The Strongest Branches of Uprooted Trees, which follows a group of young Shoah survivors during the early postwar years. Part II tells the story of what happened to some of them while they were separated.

Ráhel and Dániel Kovacs, eight and four years old, escaped from a death train under cover of night and found shelter in a nearby convent. They’ve been put in a hidden room upstairs, and a doctor performed a tracheostomy on Dániel, who has diphtheria.

After being assigned the Polish names Liwia and Fryderyk, the Polish forms of their middle names, a nun asked where they got the rosary and scapular they arrived with.

“A very nice lady gave them to us before we got off the train. She taught me four Catholic prayers, and taught my brother a very easy prayer for little children. Her parents converted before she was born, but the Germans thought she was still Jewish.”

“Oh, good, you already know some prayers. Some of the other people we’ve hidden didn’t know anything. What’s your dolly’s name?”

“Ambrózia. My sister bought her in a big store in Budapest. She came from France.”

Dr. Kaczka smiled.

The ten lines end here. A few more follow to finish the scene (and chapter).

“Well, let’s hope she’s your ambrosia and confers the same kind of protection on you as it did on the Greek deities. No one can live forever, but living a long life is good enough.”

After Dr. Kaczka and the nuns had gone, Ráhel leaned over and whispered the Sh’ma and its first paragraph in Dániel’s ear, just as Mirjam had commanded. She also added the last paragraph, and then repeated it in Hungarian, adding the concluding line of the Our Father afterwards.

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might. Take to heart these words with which I charge you this day. Teach them to your children. Recite them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down, and when you rise up. Bind them as a sign upon your hand, and let them serve as a symbol before your eyes; inscribe them upon the doorposts of your house and on your gates. Thus you shall remember to observe all my commandments and to be holy to your God. I am the Lord, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God: I am the Lord your God. And deliver us from evil. Amen.”

Posted in 1940s, Historical fiction, Shoah, Writing

WeWriWa—New names

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

I’ve gone back to my hiatused WIP The Strongest Branches of Uprooted Trees, which follows a group of young Shoah survivors during the early postwar years. Part II tells the story of what happened to some of them while they were separated.

Ráhel and Dániel Kovacs, eight and four years old, have escaped from a death train under cover of night and taken shelter in a nearby convent. They’ve been put in a hidden room upstairs, and a doctor performed a tracheostomy on Dániel, who has diphtheria.

Now they’re asked about their names, and Ráhel provides their middle names like her older sister Mirjam told her to do.

The nun who’d answered the door touched Ráhel’s hand and addressed her in Esperanto. “What are you and the boy named?”

“My name is Lívia, and my brother’s name is Frigyes.”

“Freed-yesh? Is there another form of that name? You’ll both need Polish names when our orphanage school starts in the autumn.”

Ráhel thought for a few minutes about her history lessons in school. She knew Dániel’s middle name was in honor of a famous emperor from a long time ago.

“Frederick!” she said excitedly. “My brother’s English name is Frederick!”

The ten lines end here. A few more follow to finish the scene.

“I should’ve guessed that. The Polish name is Fryderyk. Your name will be Liwia. We’ll call you Liwunia, and your brother Fredzio. If you have Jewish names, please don’t tell us. It’s best if we don’t know.”

“Do you feel sick too?” Dr. Kaczka asked.

“No, I had torokgyík last year.” Ráhel took a drink from the new glass of water on the nightstand. “Thank you very much for being nice to us. My mother and sister will give you money after the war.”

“We don’t need money for doing the right thing,” a very young nun said. “For now, the most important thing is to get some rest. We’ll take very good care of you, teach you Polish, and protect you from the Germans. Where did you get that scapular and rosary from?”

Posted in 1940s, Historical fiction, Shoah, Writing

WeWriWa—Shelter

If you’re observing Tisha B’Av, may you have an easy and meaningful fast!

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

I’ve gone back to my hiatused WIP The Strongest Branches of Uprooted Trees, which follows a group of young Shoah survivors during the early postwar years. Part II tells the story of what happened to some of them while they were separated.

Mirjam Kovács, a graduate student in Budapest, fled back to her hometown of Abony immediately after the Nazi invasion in March 1944. Though this put her in considerable danger, it also enabled her to find a way to send her youngest siblings to safety. Even in the death train, she still didn’t give up hope.

The escape she engineers is inspired by the 2006 German film The Last Train (Der Letzte Zug). With help from other passengers, a rock was transformed into an axe which increased the size of a pre-existing hole in the floor. While some of the young men raised a loud disturbance, Mirjam’s siblings escaped.

Ráhel ran towards a large white building just past the woods, sidestepping and jumping over broken branches, twigs, and logs that might give them away. Instead of going through the large central door, she rang the bell to the little adjoining house with an image of Mary on the door.

A woman in a long, voluminous brown robe, a white coif, and a black veil answered the door, took one look at them, and motioned them inside. As soon as the door was closed, the woman spoke to them in a strange language. Ráhel opened her mouth, but couldn’t think of any of the necessary Russian, French, or German phrases Mirjam had drilled into her. Instead, she could only respond in the language her mother had derided as completely useless and vanity.

“Ni eskapis de tre malbona trajno. Ni estas tre malsata kaj soifa, kaj mia frato estas tre malsana. Bonvolu helpi nin.” [“We escaped from a very bad train. We’re very hungry and thirsty, and my brother is very sick. Please help us.”]

The woman draped in brown answered in Esperanto.

The ten lines end here. A few more follow to finish the scene.

“I know who you are, and about those trains passing through all the time. Follow me, and I’ll get you something to eat and drink, a nice bed, a bath, and a doctor for the little boy.”

Ráhel and Dániel followed her into the attic, where there was a bedroom behind a wall. A short while later, their benefactor and several other women draped in brown appeared, bearing trays of bread and salt, tea, chicken soup, hard-boiled eggs, pickled mushrooms, and water. Dániel could only bear to swallow the water and soup broth, though Ráhel pounced on everything like a ravenous wolf.

After they were done eating, their new friends pointed into an adjoining washroom, and they took turns bathing. The water turned black during each of their baths, and had to be drained and refilled several times. Neither of them had had a real bath since their move into the Abony ghetto in late May.

Following their baths, they changed into pajamas and returned to the soft, fluffy, warm bed. Ráhel made sure to put the scapular back around her neck, with one segment on the back and the other on the chest. Dániel’s neck had by now swollen so much he couldn’t comfortably wear Margaréta’s rosary, so Ráhel put that next to him on his pillow.

Several minutes later, the women in brown returned, accompanied by a man in a white coat. By this time, Dániel was coughing hysterically, croupier and croupier by the minute, and starting to turn blue.

Posted in 1940s, Historical fiction, Shoah, Writing

WeWriWa—A grandmother’s farewell gift

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

I’ve gone back to my hiatused WIP The Strongest Branches of Uprooted Trees, which follows a group of young Shoah survivors during the early postwar years. Part II tells the story of what happened to some of them while they were separated.

Mirjam Kovács, a graduate student in Budapest, fled back to her hometown of Abony immediately after the Nazi invasion in March 1944. Though this put her in considerable danger, it also enabled her to find a way to send her youngest siblings to safety. Even in the death train, she still hasn’t given up hope.

The escape she engineers is inspired by the 2006 German film The Last Train (Der Letzte Zug). With help from other passengers, a rock has been transformed into an axe, and now that axe is being used to increase the size of a pre-existing hole in the floor.

“I’d prefer our family stay together, but if the little ones are going to leave, I’d like to give them something special to remember me by.” The older Mrs. Kovács reached into her skirt and pulled out a small parcel wrapped in tissue paper.

“What is that!” Mirjam demanded. “How did you sneak anything past all those gendarmes? If those are valuables, you should’ve given them to me for burial.”

“They’re a pair of earrings and my engagement ring, both at least two hundred years old.” The older Mrs. Kovács peeled back the tissue paper. “Rahi, do you think you can still fit earrings in your ears?”

“There’s no need to try now. We have to focus on getting them out of here in time.”

The ten lines end here. A few more follow to finish the scene.

“Nonsense. I want to see my granddaughter wearing my earrings while we’re still together. I know this is the end of the road for me, but God willing, perhaps Rahi will have a long life like mine ahead of her.”

The older Mrs. Kovács took out teardrop-shaped azurite-malachite French hook earrings and pushed them into Ráhel’s ears. There was some resistance, but Ráhel’s ear piercings hadn’t completely healed over in the almost three months they’d been unoccupied.

“My ears sting,” Ráhel said.

“They’ll sting for a bit, since you haven’t worn earrings in awhile.  Blues and greens are your best colors.” The older Mrs. Kovács pushed a large Siberian amethyst ring onto Ráhel’s thumb. “That’s for Dani to give to his future bride.”

Posted in 1940s, Historical fiction, Shoah, Writing

WeWriWa—Mirjam’s great idea

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

I’m going back to my hiatused WIP The Strongest Branches of Uprooted Trees, which follows a group of young Shoah survivors (almost all of them Hungarian) during the early postwar years. Part II tells the story of what happened to the friends of Eszter Kovács while they were separated.

Eszter’s older sister Mirjam, a master’s degree student in Budapest, fled back to her hometown of Abony immediately after the Nazi invasion in March, under the false impression she’d be safer in a small town. Though this put her in a considerably greater amount of danger, it also enabled her to find a way to send her youngest siblings to safety. Even in the death train, she still hasn’t given up hope.

The last-minute escape she engineers is based on the escape in the 2006 German film The Last Train (Der Letzte Zug).

Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-027-1477-07 / Vennemann, Wolfgang / CC-BY-SA 3.0

A young man with a gash across his face picked up a rock and lobbed it through the window. It found its mark grazing across Oszkár’s face, and Oszkár tripped backwards.

“Is this train ride almost over?” Ráhel asked. “I’m getting tired of standing.”

“We’re all getting tired of standing!” an old man snapped. “You’re not the most important person in this car!”

Mirjam grabbed the rock. “Does anyone have twine and a stick? We can fashion this into an axe, and cut through the door. This is just the right shape and size for a homemade axe, though there’s no time to sharpen it.”

The ten lines end here. A few more follow to finish the scene.

Gusztáv picked up the rock. “We might have some supplies to fashion an axe. Dr. Rozental, may we borrow your flashlight?”

With the light of the small flashlight, Fábián pulled out his boot laces and Oszkár fished around in his bundles.

“You can use this,” Móric’s older sister Petra said, extending a long wooden rod with flares on either end. “This was Veruska’s teething stick, and was still in the bag of children’s supplies when we left Újszász.”

Using Dr. Rozental’s sharpest scalpel, Gusztáv sawed off one of the flares and split the top of what remained. Gusztáv then took a deep breath and submerged the stick in the waste bucket. He gagged as he bent the wood around the rock and lashed it in place with Fábián’s boot laces. While this was going on, Mirjam used another scalpel to remove the star from Ráhel’s blouse.