CURSE XXII

“On September 1, 1939,
when war broke out,
I locked myself in the bathroom
and wouldn’t come out.
I was crying; I knew
my world was ending.

“We had a good life in Warsaw.
My father owned a business;
we kept two servants;
my sister and I went to private schools.

“After one week the city was bombarded
from morning to night.
Warsaw was beautiful,
and it was completely destroyed.

“No one knew at first
of Hitler and Stalin’s secret pact.
Soon the city was reorganized
and the ghetto set up.

“Young Jews were going to Russia.
Before the ghetto was closed,
my fiancé and I escaped
across the green border to the East.

“It wasn’t so easy.
He was very smart at arranging things
and on the black market bought me
an original birth certificate
of a person my age
who’d been taken to Siberia.

“I spoke excellent Polish
because we’d spoken Polish at home.
He and I lived in the suburbs of a city
that was Judenrein.
I looked Jewish but he didn’t.
He had blond hair and blue eyes.
“One day he left in the morning
and didn’t come back.
I still don’t know what happened to him.
The Germans picked him up.
They killed people for nothing.
With men, it was simple,
‘Pull down your pants.’

“My parents perished
in the Warsaw Ghetto.
My sister died with her daughter
in a terrible concentration camp.
She couldn’t think like a person
after her husband died
in the Army in the short war.

“He was wounded at the front
and brought to a hospital in Warsaw.
The Germans used poisoned bullets.
His wounds weren’t mortal,
but infections developed.

“My second husband
saw his wife and daughter
killed before his eyes.
There are things you don’t talk about
or understand.
Until the end of his life
he screamed in his sleep
and I would hold him.
He was a good husband,
a good father, a good man.

“For a year and a half,
until the end of the war,
I survived on my own without means,
with no family or home.
I had a twenty dollar bill
to buy my life if I were arrested.
No one knew I existed.
I believe I was fated to live;
I don’t know why.

“Truman is my favorite president
because he let us in the U.S. after the war.
In New York I found my cousin.
She took me into her bedroom
and showed me her photo albums.
‘Take what you want,’ she said.
Can you imagine what it meant to me
to have a picture of my parents?”