A story dealing with a ten year old Brooklyn boy's first direct contact with the Holocaust

            January 2014    
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The Countess

By Michael Boloker

"I know, Bern. But what choice have we? Think of this poor lady. Her husband was taken to the camps. Her children gone. You know what that means? Here we are safe. We must help her."

My grandfather's words echoed in the room. " Did you even know her?"

My grandmother answered. "No. Only from far away. They were nobility almost, these Von Krebs. They owned the big store, land, a great house. They would not know us."

"Then why?"

My grandmother answered with my grandfather's comment squelched. "It is the right thing to do. We have to try to do all we can over here. If it means a few days to be uncomfortable, then it will have to be. It's the least we can do."

"Grandma?" I interrupted wanting to know where I would sleep but before I could ask my question, I was hushed up.

"We will figure this out on the weekend, Meyer. Now go write a letter to your father. He loves to hear from you. Go, my boy."

I did as I was told, sitting at the kitchen table, trying to tell my father about school and how this countess who would be staying with us. I overheard more arguing in the dining room, my mother finally giving in. I listened as they decided to ask all the family over on Sunday afternoon to let them know what was occurring. My grandmother's three sisters and Grandpa Jack's brother would be there. Maybe they could help too.

After attending morning services with my grandpa, we came home to find the living room crowded with all the members of the family. My mother slept late and Grandma put out tea and some cookies which were difficult to purchase in these hard times of rationing. Uncle Sid and Aunt Annie were my favorites. They owned a small millinery shop nearby. Uncle Sid slipped me a dime and Aunt Annie left a lipstick smear on my cheek as she crushed me to her breasts. They were soft. Aunt Sarah came without her husband. She had had a stroke last year and had difficulty speaking. Aunt Eva, the youngest of the four sisters, was dark and spooky. She reminded me of a witch from the comic books and I stayed away from her. The sisters were constantly fighting each other, but here they were to discuss the Countess. My grandfather's brother Willy was here with Aunt Francie and the talk was loud and animated. I tried to listen but was shooed outside.

The Countess was due tomorrow and I had been told by my mother that she would sleep on the living room couch and I would use a sleeping bag in my grandparents' bedroom. I guess I would hit the floor or share the bed with my grandma when my grandpa was at work at the cab depot.

I was bouncing my spaldeen against the wall next to the front door when they started to come downstairs to leave. I got hugs and kisses from Aunt Annie. Uncle Sidney slipped me another dime. Scary Eva stared evilly at me and Sarah was helped into her son's car. I waved goodbye and went upstairs. My mother was cleaning up and my grandpa was reading the newspaper. Sunday would be our last day without the Countess, at least for a while. It was big news.

When I came home from school on Monday afternoon, Rabbi Heller passed me at the front door on his way out, nodded, but said nothing to me. Upstairs, it was quiet, but the door to our bedroom was shut. Grandma kissed me, sat me down for a glass of milk and a small slice of pound cake. "Meyer, you will not go into the bedroom. I moved your things into mine. Change and go out to play."

"But Grandma," I protested, but was hushed up as my grandmother escorted me into the bedroom where my polo shirt and dungarees were laid out on the bed.

"Change, Meyer. Frau Von Krebs is resting. Don't bother her."

I did as I was told, changed, went downstairs and outside and found Gary and Martin to toss a ball around with. I said nothing about our visitor.

At dinner that night, our bedroom door remained closed and everyone made an attempt to talk quietly. It was a strain. I was escorted into the kitchen where my mother sat with me as I did my arithmetic problems and read from my history book.

I was allowed to listen to my radio shows before taking a bath and going to sleep in my grandparents' big double bed. Nothing was said of the Countess but she was definitely a presence in the apartment. I was torn between the desire to see her and the fear of this stranger.

I had to be very quiet when I got dressed in the morning so as not to disturb out guest. My mother had slept on the couch and was in the bathroom getting ready for work. She did not look happy.

After school I was again hurried outside to play. I still had not seen this woman and was more curious than ever. At dinner that night, my mother did not come home from work. "Your mother is staying with a friend from work, Meyer. She will telephone later to speak to you." She did not.

The rest of the week was the same. ..school, hushed voices in the apartment, rushed outside in the afternoon. Rabbi Heller came over several times, went into the bedroom but nothing else happened. The rest of the time the door remained closed.

On Saturday my mother went shopping with Grandma. Grandpa was at Uncle Willy's so I was warned not to bother the Countess. I stayed outside and played with my friends but when lunch time neared, I returned home. I saw the door open to the bedroom and approached cautiously. There were no lights on. The shades were drawn. In the corner chair sat a small, black dressed figure. I stepped forward to get a better look when a frail, hoarse voice called, "Duvid? Was is los?" The Accent was heavy, the voice shrill. A black lace veil covered her face. I thought I could see her eyes through the material but they seemed unfocussed. "Duvid? Cum."

Why was she calling me Duvid? How could I respond? It was creepy, this ominous old lady here. I had no business being there and felt frightened, but she had no business in our room. My fear turned to anger. "Why don't you leave, lady? Give us our home back." I shouted and ran back to the front staircase and started dashing down, running into my grandma, coming back from shopping with my mother.

"What are you doing, Meyer? Why are you running?"

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from the January 2014 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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