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The Fall of Berlin

Mendl Mann

The Fall of Berlin

Chapter Seven

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1Anna closed the door quietly behind her. Her room had been ransacked. The bed was a mess. The window was open, the wind blowing through it. On her night table lay a half-written letter, some books left open, and an old illustrated magazine. Her white wardrobe was open. The cold air was pouring in. She had just returned from Capt. Klyuyev, the supervisor of medical personnel. Why was her room a mess? Maybe no one had come to clean up. No, she herself had closed the wardrobe and made her bed at dawn. The skies were cloudy. It was sad to see the sheets of rain slanting down on the ruins below. Anna threw a narrow, white shawl over her shoulders and sat on the bed.

2Who were those two people sitting in Klyuyev’s office who had said nothing during her interrogation? One of them had been a young civilian, the other a woman soldier in officer’s garb without epaulettes. She had not looked at Anna, she took notes. Anna noticed her forehead covered with freckles, her protruding lip, and her big, crooked teeth. Klyuyev had called her once by name, Zinaida Karpovna.

3It had taken place in the afternoon. Leszniak, the old Polish doctor, was chatting affectionately with Anna. The head nurse, Yekaterina Yurievna, was in the reception room. She had just escorted a wounded soldier out to the gate. When he had first been brought in, he was considered a hopeless case. Now Anna shook his hand warmly, and when he left she watched him from the window as he walked away. She remembered every wrinkle in his face when he lay on the operating table, his ashen lips pressed together, the marbled veins at his temples. Now he was walking with a healthy stride, and she was beaming with joy. But she was sorry to see him go.

4It was just then, as she watched the soldier leave, that the door had opened and a medic walked in: “Anna Samuelovna, Capt. Klyuyev wants to see you. He’s waiting in his office.”

5“Capt. Klyuyev?”

6The medic nodded, and Anna detected sympathy in his face.

7Klyuyev began: “Doctor, it’s an honor for me to see you. Please sit, Anna Samuelovna. Sit.”

8 She did not like his saccharine, courteous voice. She sat down at the edge of the chair and said nothing. Her impatience showed in every movement. She coolly sized up the unfamiliar civilian in the corner and the woman soldier.

9He continued: “You’re in a hurry? I know that you have more important things to do, Doctor. This won’t take long. It’s my fault that we haven’t gotten to know each other sooner. Totally my fault. You know how it is, so much work, such responsibilities! Hm... hm... Doctor, why haven’t you applied to be a member of the Party? Now—with our victory over Germany—there’s a big push to enrol members. For me, Capt. Klyuyev, it’s a matter of prestige. One of our finest doctors isn’t a member of the Party!

10Anna smiled: “I’m so busy. It didn’t occur to me. I didn’t think of it.”

11Klyuyev turned serious: “Didn’t think of it? Never thought of it? That’s very interesting. Very...”

12He did not finish his sentence, but looked at her long, thin fingers on the edge of the table: “Don’t you want to be considered in the leadership of the Soviet nation?”

13Anna burst out laughing and walked to the window: “With your permission, Capt. Klyuyev. The soldier Blinov is going home. We fixed him up here. There’s the car now.” She looked right at Klyuyev and continued: “Do you think I would have fixed him up better if I had the red Party card? You honor me with your suggestion, and I’m grateful for your trust in me.”

14“So you’re refusing to join the Party?”

15“I didn’t refuse.”

16“Oh, you’ll think it over? Quite right! That has to be done calmly and of your own free will. It speaks well of you that you’re not rushing thoughtlessly to join the Party. Good, Anna Samuelovna! I like you. We’ll put it off.”

17Anna did not sit down. She stood at the window in her white medical robe.

18“Please allow me one more question,” said Klyuyev. “You fell into the hands of the Germans when your partisan detachment was attacked. That’s what it says in your file. But there’s something that’s not clear. Didn’t you freely desert and go over to the Germans because you were apathetic? You didn’t have faith in our victory?”

19 Anna’s hands began to tremble and she was out of breath: “What are you saying, Capt. Klyuyev?”

20“We believe you, Doctor! We’re only interested in your partisan commanders. Clearly they made a decision, and you were faced with a fait accompli. But you certainly know that there were quite a few deserters. You’re trembling? Stop it! You’re a surgeon, and such a trifling question, such a trivial matter makes you nervous? Are you tired? Then we’ll stop here for now. Maybe another time... What do you think, Anna Samuelovna? I would be very pleased, very!”

21Anna was stunned. Her eyes, now moist, shone from her grave face like flickering candles.

22He continued: “Don’t you remember the names of the general staff of your partisan unit? Can you mention one, perhaps?”

23“I already gave my full report, all the details. Are they in your desk? You can easily check.”

24“Too bad you can’t remember. It’s important.”

25Klyuyev leaned over and rested his fat fingers against Anna’s hand. His touch made her shudder. She desperately wished to be gone from there as soon as possible. She answered: “Anton Vasilitch Mikhailov was the commander. He was killed in action.”

26“But surely there were others? Are any of them still alive?” asked Klyuyev.

27Suddenly Zhillin’s face came to her. He appeared to her like a shadow on the walls of the office. He seemed to be standing behind Capt. Klyuyev. She could feel his breath, heavy with liquor. His eyes were burning. Hands knocked her down in a field with nettles. The pain was so sharp that she locked her eyes shut, weeping inwardly over her own torn, bloody body. She could hear the snide laughter in that terrible night, the drunken, evil laughing of Zhillin’s orderly.

28She answered, “I don’t know. I don’t know any surviving commanders.”

29The captain got up: “Doctor, I apologize for taking you away from your work. It was a pleasure to see you. We’ll discuss these matters another time. You could help us discover our enemies, but your answers prove the opposite. You don’t seem agreeable. I can sense it. Should we put off your application for membership in the Party for now?”

30 He held out his hand with its short, stubby fingers. When Anna left his office, she sensed that someone was following her. Then she discovered that her room had been ransacked as if someone had been searching in her wardrobe and her bed. Night had fallen. Anna was lying on her bed. The window was still open. The rain was beating against the pane and splashing on the sill, then onto the floor. Yekaterina Yurievna quietly opened the door. She called, “Anna! Anna!” and turned on the electric light. “What’s wrong, Anna?”

31Anna was wrapped in her shawl, her head buried in her pillows. The nurse closed the window and called the chambermaid to mop up the puddles that had spilled to the center of the room. Then she tidied up the disorder in the room. She knew about Anna’s conversation in Klyuyev’s office. She, too, had been summoned the day before and interrogated about Anna: Where was Anna going so often? Who was Marek, the Polish Jew? What did Anna talk about? Who was sending Anna letters? They made the nurse tell them about the Jewish children whom Anna was rescuing and bringing to the refuge in Otwock. Then they made her sign her name attesting that everything she had said was true, and promising to report back every few days on what the doctors were talking about, and which civilians were coming to visit Anna.

32Yekaterina Yurievna wept. “I can’t take it, Anna. I can’t take it anymore. I want to leave. The war is over now, so why are they torturing us?”

33Anna got out of bed at midnight. She stepped into the washroom and turned on the faucet. She let the cold water cool down her face and neck. She walked down the dark corridors to the great hall with the wounded soldiers. She had slept for an hour at most. The weather cleared with the coming of dawn. She was suddenly overcome with the need to read Menakhem’s last letter again. But she could not find it.

34Heavy trucks stopped at the hospital gate. A driver was calling out hoarsely.

35A few weeks earlier, when Anna had gone to the dark building of the Jewish Committee in Praga near Warsaw to make inquiries concerning Menakhem’s parents, she met a young Polish Jew named Marek. He was the only one with information about Menakhem’s home, and she invited him to see her at the hospital. They had once been friends for a while. But they went their separate ways in the Fall of 1939. Menakhem had fled occupied Warsaw, crossed the border at night and ended up near the Volga River. Marek, a blond history student, had remained in Warsaw and had survived the Ghetto. He had been a leader of the 1943 Jewish uprising, then joined Gen. Bor’s army in the Warsaw uprising of the Poles a year later. He was sent to Pruszkow along with other Polish prisoners, then escaped to the Kielce forest, and returned to Warsaw with the Red Army.

36When Anna looked at his bright face, she thought that his courage did not only reflect only on his small Jewish nation but would be a source of universal pride for an entire generation. He had the face of a Greek warrior hero. How wonderful it was that God had created such a pure soul and such human decency and bestowed them on this man, which was so obvious on his face! She was grateful that Fate had protected Marek. When he showed up among the weary, dispirited survivors in those tiny rooms of the Jewish Committee, he brought light and hope with him. Anna compared him to Menakhem. They were two different blossoms, but their roots were intertwined, growing from the same soil. And it made her, too, feel a part of her people. Her Jewish parents had showed her the way, and her open, warm heart had been receptive. Anyone who could imagine himself on the road to the gates of Auschwitz, even for a second, could call himself Jewish, symbolically. She had once said so to Dr. Leszniak.

37She had first gone to see the rescued children a few days later. Marek led her up dilapidated, garbage-strewn steps to a few little rooms where surviving Jewish children were holed up. She was heartbroken when she left them, unable to keep from weeping. They had been found in marketplaces, in ruined buildings, in train stations. They had wandered like little beggars at the gates of churches, and they lived with non-Jewish Poles. They were ragged, sick, worn-out. Non-Jews came to the Jewish Committee every day, asking for money to feed Jewish children. Some asked for food and clothes for them. Dozens of letters came offering to deliver children in exchange for payment:

38“We risked our lives by hiding them, we fed them and clothed them. Now you owe us for all that.”

39“We were assured that we’d get millions of dollars for every child at the end of the war. That was just another Jewish swindle.”

40 Marek showed Anna the letters and asked her to help. He told her that when the first Soviet tanks fought their way into Lublin, one of them stopped. The Russian trooper got out, carrying a Jewish child in a blanket. He called out, “Who is Jewish? I want to entrust him to a Jew.” The Russian was from a village near Voronezh. “Anna Samuelovna, couldn’t you do what this Russian did?”

41That was how she became the supervisor of the children’s refuge. She managed to obtain some rooms near the Soviet hospital and to get food and clothes. Nurses and doctors joined in. Even some of the patients helped out. Some carved them toys or shared the packages that they had received from their homes far away. A requisitions officer went with Anna to Otwock and requisitioned a villa for the children in a pine forest. She spent her free time running from bureaucrats to storage magazines to get extra rations for them. When they had finally cleared enough space for the children, and dozens of beds were brought in, Anna rode around picking up more Jewish children living in non-Jewish homes, accompanied by Marek and some Soviet troops assigned to the hospital. Sometimes the children were given up only under threat.

42Sometimes the children hid, terrified that they would be harmed or that the people asking for them were Germans in disguise. Those six and eight and ten-year old children had learned that murderers of Jews came in a variety of guises: farmers, or good-natured officials, or Christian women dressed in their Sunday best. And the mayor himself might come with a policeman.

43So they looked with a mixture of mistrust and childish curiosity upon this unfamiliar woman in uniform who spoke Russian. But they gradually got accustomed to Anna. She took care of their medical needs. Dr. Leszniak often came along, too. One day a friend of the doctor came to see him at the hospital, Dr. Jabrow, a Jew from Vilna. He was old and gray, somewhere in his 70s, who had survived the German camps. He showed surprised to hear Anna’s surname.

44“Why are you surprised, Dr. Jabrow?”

45“You’re from Moscow? Your name is Anna Samuelovna Korina?” he asked again. “I remember your father. Samuel Korin. We were very close, practically relatives. How is your mother, Sara Abramovna?”

46She shook with emotion, and she threw her arms around him like a member of the family. Her face brightened and warmth radiated from her eyes: “You knew my father! Oh, God, how thankful I am! How you’ve made me happy! My mother will weep. Do you know what this means to me? No, you can’t imagine. You’ve taken someone torn from her roots and restored her to her soil. You’ve returned me to my own suffering people.” She held his hands and talked about the death of her father, about the house on Mokhovaya Street, about her old mother, about Menakhem in Berlin, about the Jewish children in Otwock.

47That day they ate lunch in her room, then they went to Otwock. Dr. Jabrow said: “I want to stay with the children. I hope I can still be useful. My strength is gone, but I want to give them whatever is left.” She kissed him and left. She thought about her father’s friend all the way back. Why had she not asked him to tell her about her father? Dr. Jabrow could have told her about her father’s childhood years. No one ever talked about him at home, and her memory of him was as if he were a dream.

48He had died somewhere in Siberia in a Soviet labor camp. And her dead father had often been an obstacle to her, like a sinister wall. He was a shadow over her dossier, which was always questioned, and which she wished to erase, even now, when she wanted to write home to tell about her encounter with Dr. Jabrow. Oh, how easily he had mentioned her mother’s name and her father’s! She would have to tell her brothers about it. And she would write to Menakhem. She repeated the name to herself, “Dr. Jabrow,” and everything in the world seemed connected: the sandy path through the pine woods to the refuge; the children; Marek, a hero of the Ghetto uprising; Warsaw in ruins; the grief of the Jewish survivors; Dr. Jabrow; the old Polish Dr. Leszniak. She would come back the next day and take Aniuta for a walk. She loved to hold the tiny girl on her lap and talk to her half in Russian, half in Yiddish. Her visits to Otwock helped her forget her conversation with Capt. Klyuyev. But that memory came back at night. She knew that the interrogation had not really ended.

49In her dreams Anna still saw that shadow on the walls. She saw him lurking in the corners or standing frozen, as if nailed to the wall. Sometimes she imagined him creeping down the corridors, searching. She dreamt she was trying to see what he really looked like, and sometimes she was sure she recognized him: It was the shadow of the same man who had been following her all the way from Moscow. He had tracked her over huge distances, day after day, until he had reached the corridors of her hospital. Now he was right behind her, haunting her day and night. And when she closed her eyes in bed, he leaned over in the black of night, closer and closer.

50Col. Zhillin showed up in Warsaw at the end of May. He was assigned as the liaison between the Soviet garrisons and the temporary Polish government. That assignment was from Moscow. They obviously valued the services he performed when he had parachuted into Warsaw and made contact with the general staff of the Polish uprising, and spent time at Kamler’s factory with Col. Bor. The Poles knew of Zhillin’s radio appeals for help for the Warsaw fighters, which had been transmitted from Bor’s headquarters to London, then from London to Moscow— because there was no direct communication. This gained him their trust when he returned as liaison to the Soviet Army, and a welcome from all the Polish sectors. The fate of conquered Berlin now rested on devastated Poland, on Warsaw.

51If they did not succeed in restoring calm to Poland, the normal operation of the railroads and highways, and the free movement of Soviet troops on Polish soil, the Soviets would be unable to maintain control in the territories that the Germans had occupied.

52Poland wished to be independent. Its people distrusted the pronouncements of the Soviets, as well as the civilian Soviet commissars who were assuming government positions in Poland. And the huge Russian garrisons terrified them. After all, it was only recently that the same Kremlin leaders had declared that Poland did not exist anymore, and that it would never exist again. There was no Poland on Russian school maps in 1940. The part of Poland that the Germans had occupied and called the Generalgouvernement was labeled on Soviet maps as the “Sphere of German Interests.” But now they spoke only of the eternal friendship between the Russian nation and the Polish nation. Now the Soviets spoke of building a large Poland all the way to the Neisse River. But it would not be a free Poland. It would be ruled by the Kremlin.

53Three days after Zhillin’s arrival in Warsaw, the sinister Kazakh Babadjanin showed up:

54“Nikolai Feodorovitch! We’re back together again! On the ground, as in the air. That’s good. Do you remember our flight together? You were very suspicious then. Now we’re old friends. I’m glad you’re back in Warsaw. But it’s different now. Surely you must have Polish friends from that time? They’re a brave nation. I mean you’ll probably see them, Bor’s people. That’s not bad. You’re not going to stay away from them, are you?

55“Some of Bor’s men are with us, and some are in the woods, guerillas. Those are making things difficult for us. They blow up transports every day and murder Russian officers and soldiers. They rob trains in broad daylight. Do you know what happened yesterday? The Warsaw—to— Lodz train, a vital communication link, was stopped by armed Poles for half an hour. They killed six Soviets and civilians. I think the civilians were Jews. I recommend that you take a plane. It’s the safest way to go. These people are going to give us a hard time!”

56It was a friendly chat in the courtyard at headquarters. But Zhillin felt the same way as he had at the Moscow airport, when he held the Kazakh’s slippery hand and looked into his big watery eyes with no eyebrows. That same fear slowly crept into him again.

57Zhillin drove around Warsaw in his black Mercedes and he did not recognize the city. Were those autumn months of 1944 so long ago? He stopped the car amid ruins in the northern part of Warsaw. It was a vast wasteland. Mounds of debris. Piles of iron. Shattered cornices. An ocean of rubble. A single tree with bare branches like bent arms stretched towards Heaven. It was evening, and the Polish skies were mild. A little cloud rose above Krasinski Garden. A flock of birds flew down on the damaged trees. Sadness and homesickness overtook Zhillin. He dreamt of his home, his village far away. The snow was melting there now. The silvery gray sea was washing over the mossy stones. Patches of snow still shone in the meadows. The wells were creaking in the evening. The farm girls carried pails of water. Their eyes did not have to see burning cities, blood in the streets. They were not being raped by hordes of soldiers. They did not have to sleep in stinking bunkers amidst the starving, the wounded, the corpses. They did not depend on the mercy of troops and officers.

58Zinaida, lanky, big-toothed, was waiting for Zhillin at headquarters, having just returned from Capt. Klyuyev with the dossier of Anna’s interrogation. Zhillin leafed through the papers and suddenly wanted to rip them into tiny shreds. “Good,” he told the secretary. “You can go!” He started pacing across the stone floor. He was angry with himself, with Warsaw, and with the web that was trapping him more and more. Why must he resort to these filthy methods, these devious ways that would bring him back to Dr. Anna Samuelovna? He lived his whole life in tangle of dark intrigue, terror, night shadows, slipping between suffocating walls. Even when he could have shown himself openly and bared his heart, he chose the path of darkness and secrecy and used his sinister power to bring his miserable self close to Anna.

59How would she look upon him? She surely suspected that someone was behind Klyuyev. She knew that. That was why she had refused to name him in the interrogation. He did not tear up the dossier. He heard the typewriter clicking in the next room. The telephone rang and Zinaida answered. Zhillin quickly opened the door and looked at Zinaida with the bony, freckled forehead. When she hung up the receiver he asked, “How does the doctor look?”

60“You mean that Anna Samuelovan Korina? Her answers were confused. She was in a hurry. She sat at the edge of her chair and gave evasive answers.”

61Zhillin grew angry. “You’re not answering my question! I asked you, how does she look?” he said severely.

62“Not bad. A foreign face, not Russian. I wouldn’t say she was beautiful. She’s... I would say…”

63Zhillin burst out laughing: “Oh, you women! You have a hard time saying anything good about another woman. You begrudge them…” He slammed the door.

64The next day he spent more time in front of the mirror. He put on his new parade outfit and ordered his driver to take him to the military hospital. Zhillin wanted to see Anna and to put an end to Klyuyev’s interrogation. It might turn out dangerous for Zhillin himself. The web that he had spun all around him could trap Zhillin himself. Klyuyev sent copies of all his dossiers to the higher-ups. Anna might start talking about that night of drunkenness long ago in the village with the partisans. He knew that spies from Moscow were on his trail. He might be implicated in that mess. He had to prevent that. He had to cover the traces that he himself had foolishly revealed. His own mad impulses could be his undoing.

65A nurse informed Anna, “An officer is waiting for you, Anna Samuelovna.” Anna walked through the great hall, between two rows of white beds. Every step closer to the door upset her more and more. A wounded soldier smiled. She stopped at his bed and smiled back. But that was just a nervous smile hiding her agitation. She tried to maintain that superficial smile down through the corridor. She was grateful to that soldier for that moment of kindness. Someone was coming towards her, but she did not recognize the face. It was like those burning eyes she had seen in Klyuyev’s office. Who was standing in front of her? Oh, it was Marek! “What’s wrong with me?” she thought. It had been a rough day. She had needed to remove a fragment from a wound that had healed long ago. The war was over, but the wounds continued. She was exhausted and she was tense. Faces swam before her: the soldier she had operated on, Klyuyev, old Jabrow, Zinaida with the sharp teeth.

66“Oh, Marek! Is something wrong?” she looked at him questioningly.

67“Nothing. You look upset. I’ll come another time. We took in two more children today. I hoped you could come to Otwock. Dr. Jabrow is really like a grandfather to the kids. But I think someone is waiting for you.”

68Anna turned towards the little marble table, where a Russian officer was sitting. Anna turned to stone. Zhillin stood up and walked towards her. Anna stepped back, stopping against the dull glass panes. She felt the cool panes at her back.

69“Anna Samuelovna, don’t you recognize me?”

70She did not answer. Her hands grasped for something to lean on. Her eyes flashed like a blast of wind that clears the snow off a frozen lake, uncovering black freezing water below. Marek waited on the side, looking at the doctor, then at Zhillin, as if he were expecting something. Anna said nothing. It was an icy silence. Zhillin was sorry he had come. I’m doing one stupid thing after another. How can I look her in the eye? What shamelessness! He felt small, worthless, there in the hospital surrounded by clean, white corridors, facing the surgeon with the proud head, suffused with dignity. Every look of hers stopped him completely. What was he compared to this young doctor? A worthless worm crawling under filthy boots. He would be trampled anyway. But she would stay in the whiteness, the purity. How had he dared to raise a hand against her, that night with the Belarussian partisans? He would bow to her in silence and never see her again.

71But he was not brave enough to do that. The Hero of the Soviet Union was entangled by black threads to that crafty Babadjanin and was so terrified of him that it made him stammer. Now he felt powerless before the doctor whom he had thrown down on his cot that night in his drunkenness. Now he trembled in her presence; he was at her feet. This was his fate: debasement. Others thought him almighty. But it was a lie!

72Why was she silent? Why didn’t she talk? Any words would have relieved him. They would have given him hope, even bitter, angry words. They would have lifted him up from abjection. They would have permitted him to look at her face.

73She answered: “I recognize you. I knew you would come.” Her words relieved him.

74“You knew I was coming?” he smiled. But the ice in her eyes froze that smile on his face.

75“Does that mean you were waiting for me?”

76Now the snake slithered from Zhillin’s eyes. He was not the rabbit that he had seen as a child facing the snake near the granary. He was the snake that slides through the fields, its dark back shimmering, the silvery zigzag on its stomach. Now he paused, with the silvery stripe gleaming.

77“I was not waiting for you!”

78Her plain speaking sliced right through him like a steel blade. She spoke clinically, like a surgeon. Now the snake in his eyes turned its ugly back, and a poisoned smile spread on Zhillin’s lips. He clicked his heels and saluted. Then he took his cap and leather gloves from the marble table.

79“Farewell, doctor!”

80Anna did not wait for him to leave. She turned around, went back to the hospital ward, and saw the smiling wounded soldier smile at her again. But this time she did not respond. Zhillin did not go right to his driver. For a long time he watched the unknown young man whom he had seen speaking to Anna. Then he waited in the corridor until a nurse came towards him.

81“Citizen, please tell me where Capt. Klyuyev’s office is.” And she took him to the door.

82Klyuyev was shocked at Zhillin’s visit. Was it good news or bad? They had a smoke and looked at each other.

83Zhillin told him: “I’m just passing through. I wanted to see the hospital. My secretary was here. It’s a pleasure to meet you personally. The hospital is well-run. But there is one thing. But the security is... for example, I ran into an unfamiliar civilian. He was chatting with the lady doctor. That’s curious. Who’s in charge of visitors’ passes? You need to be more careful! Especially now, in these troubled times.”

84Capt. Klyuyev rang a buzzer on his desk and a sergeant entered.

85“This is the man in charge of security.”

86“Let’s leave that alone for now. I’m in a rush. I’ve received the dossier of the first interrogation. It’s interesting. Don’t forget to beef up security.”

87Zhillin left, relieved.

88He saw Poland in ruins, Poles living in the street, with bitter faces, with scorn and hatred. Yes, hatred. He had not felt such hatred in Berlin as in liberated Warsaw. Now our greatest enemies are the Poles, not the Germans. His car had to stop at an intersection, because some push carts and a horse-drawn wagon were blocking the way. It was dark. The Poles pointed to his big Mercedes. They hurried to clear the road. The driver let loose a volley of bitter Russian curses. A young Pole with a mustache raised a fist towards him. The driver pointed his gun at him. Zhillin curled up and cuddled in his upholstered seat. A military patrol appeared and escorted Zhillin through the dark streets of Warsaw.

89Menakhem was discharged from the army. At the end of May he went to the Warsaw railroad station, which was half in ruins. He strolled around the wooden barracks. No one was waiting for him. Farmers were swarming in the station, dragging sacks and baskets, making their way towards the freight cars. It was a lively crowd, with crude faces, shiny with lard and vodka. Among them walked frontline soldiers, recently discharged, wearing raggedy tunics, carrying small satchels.

90Polish police and Soviet patrols were watching everywhere. All kinds of peddlers sold their wares in the station, like hot tea and boiling grits. There were professional looters with goods plundered from the cities and villages of eastern Germany; smugglers returning from Siberia; peasant families coming from the other side of the Bug River with bundles and bags. Smiling young Polish women with valises and overstuffed leather handbags, who had gained experience in the commerce of war during the German occupation, were all on good terms with the station officials and the police, so they were able to take all the little tables in the buffet.

91Carrying his wooden satchel through the mob, Menakhem perused all their faces. He was searching for Jews. Someone stopped him. It was a Soviet patrol: “Documents?!” Apparently Menakhem’s Soviet tunic and his officer’s insignia must have attracted his attention.

92Anna did not know that Menakhem was supposed to come that day. He had written to tell her that a military commission had discharged him, and he was waiting for orders from headquarters. Menakhem wandered the streets of Warsaw on that rainy Wenesday afternoon. It was not his hometown. He had grown up on the banks of a little river in northern Poland among meadows and alder tree forests, fields of reeds and water mills with dams of stone. His grandfathers and uncles had been peddlers in the villages. He had left at sixteen to study in Warsaw. He had fled the city when the Germans occupied it. He could still see it as if it were yesterday. He had found himself among a crowd of Poles on a side street not far from the Plac Teatralny. The Germans had turned the ruined square into their victory parade ground. He could hear the drums beating in the distance.

93Now he was again walking across the cobblestones of the huge square. The walls were charred black. Columns stood supporting nothing. Entire buildings were desolated, hollowed out. He did not recognize the people. This was not the Poland he had known. The faces were different. The women wearing kerchiefs and shawls and broad-shouldered army coats—these were not the people of Warsaw. The gruesome years of war were etched on their faces. Their surface dignity dissolved at the first look of a stranger. He could see grief on their faces and also the pride of having been favored by Fate to survive. They walked with the confidence of chosen people. Before the war Warsaw had exuded a feminine charm: the streets, the parks, the boulevards, Menakhem had once sensed it. But now it was gone. Instead the city seethed with feminine outrage, with revulsion at having been violated, and it pained him.

94Menakhem had just one address: the address of the Soviet military hospital where Anna worked. Yekaterina Yurievna took him to her door. The nurse had recognized him and she beamed with joy. She waited in the corridor until Menakhem closed the door behind him. He put down his satchel at the doorway. Anna stared at him with big, watery eyes, gleaming with an inner light. He stood silently in the room as evening fell. He seemed taller to her now, and she lay her head on his shoulder and brushed his neck with her warm, moist lips.

95 Menakhem spent the night in Anna’s room. At midnight she put on her slippers and white doctor’s robe and went to check on the wounded. When she returned, Menakhem was in a deep sleep. She bent her warm body over him and caressed his neck, his hair with her long, nervous fingers. Her hands on his scars brought her back to that village outside Moscow, buried in snow, where they had met for the first time. Here was that shell wound in his shoulder again, barely hidden under thin skin. She pressed her lips to him as he slept wearily, and she was glad. She again saw herself meeting Menakhem that night. She again took his hands to wrap her fingers around his. But her recent agitation resurfaced: Klyuyev’s words, Zhillin’s sudden appearance, and her new terror at the shadows that followed her—all of that mixed with her renewed passion, her months of longing, the desire to wrap herself with Menakhem’s exhausted body, to give herself completely, body and soul, to him. She leaned over him, this sad young Jew who had come back from the war. She would give him everything.

96But her life was not in her hands. Others were in control. All she had left was her love. Everything else could be trampled on some dark night. Did he realize that? The next morning, Anna brought him breakfast on a tray. They sat at her little hospital table in her little room. He suddenly had a foreboding that they would be separated again. It would be against their will. He tried to suppress that premonition, but he could not. Anna’s fingers were pale. He pressed his lips to them. He asked himself, “Where did I ever get such an idea?!” But the feeling drilled itself like a corkscrew into his brain. He could not see why this presentiment had taken hold of him. He was sure that Anna was thinking the same thing.

97“Anna, what were you thinking just now?”

98She laughed. It calmed him down, and he was glad that she had laughed just then.

99“I’m leaving soon. I have to do something.”

100“Marek is coming now, your old friend. I sent for him.” The three of them, Anna, Menakhem, and Marek left at noon to see the children in Otwock.

101Antisemitism surged in Poland after the war, growing uglier every day. Stones were thrown at trains bringing Jews back from Siberia and from the central Asian Soviet steppes. It was dangerous for Jews to leave their homes after dark. They were being murdered. People who had been seen recently suddenly disappeared, their corpses turning up later in out of the way train stations. The country was swarming with ruthless characters unleashed by the war. They ran wild from the Oder River to the Bug, from Bug to the Dnieper. Remaining units of Bandera’s gangs spread out to the Dniester River, from Huryn to the Vistula River and Cracow. There were Vlasov’s men; gangs of Polish Volksdeutsche; war criminals; extortionists who had betrayed Jews to the Germans; concentration camp guards; smugglers.

102Discharged Soviet veterans who had lost their plunder by playing cards and getting drunk went robbing in Poland to bring back loot on their way home to Russia. Gangsters looking for ways to escape to Czechosolovakia, Rumania, and then further away, stocked up on gold. These scoundrels preyed on Poland, for the gold was there that Germans had plundered all over Europe. Warsaw became the center of the black market for occupied Europe. Drunks and thieves now traded in the possessions that had been stolen from the Jews. Warsaw attracted hordes of people, like locust, from distant corners of the country. When they got to Warsaw, they encountered Jewish survivors from the Soviet Union and the camps, who had gravitated to the larger cities.

103Antisemitism flared up among the residents of Warsaw and Lodz. They feared that returning Jews would demand that their apartments, their homes, and their possessions be returned to them. A special emissary from Moscow addressed Zhillin’s general staff:

104“Our aim is to develop contact with the Polish people. It must be a close and friendly relationship. We cannot take severe measures. The country is still reeling from the war. Every farmer has weapons. We have to stay out of internal conflicts here but keep a watchful eye on them. We need to take advantage of certain things here to use them to our benefit. Antisemitism is one of them. There may be some Jews among you, or not, but I’ll be frank.

105“Even our Soviet officials of Jewish nationality will understand. We sympathize with your tragic small nation, but we will not stain our Bolshevik morality if we cannot help them. There is a higher interest: the well-being of all the Soviet nations in the whole Soviet Union. It is precisely the turmoil and chaos in Poland, especially the murder of the remaining Jewish survivors, which justifies to the outside world strengthening our military garrisons in Poland. Foreign governments are convinced that the country is not yet capable of independence, and Soviet garrisons are necessary because Nazism is still rampant.”

106Zhillin paid close attention to the words of the emissary from Moscow. He understood that they were aimed directly at him, and that the words of sympathy for the Jews were mere lip service.

107The speaker continued: “As you can see, such negative and regrettable in this country can be useful to us. Keep that in mind and draw your own conclusions. Details and instructions are not necessary. Everything is clear.”

108Marek was murdered in his apartment in Warsaw. He was found shot to death in the bathroom. He had been killed in broad daylight. A few days later the Jewish children’s refuge in Otwock received a threatening letter: “Get out of Poland! If not, we’ll blow up this house and all the children.”

109Old Doctor Jabrow and Menakhem went to the representatives of the provisional Polish government. They sent an investigator and assigned a policeman to guard the house. There was a Soviet garrison not far from the refuge, and Menakhem went to see the commander. They received him courteously and suggested that he contact the liaison officer of the general staff. But Menakhem replied to the commander: “About a hundred Jewish children are threatened. You have to act now. Give us weapons.”

110He left empty-handed and went to Warsaw with Dr. Jabrow. One of the liaison officers was Zhillin. Anna was against asking Zhillin for anything but did not give a reason why. Even the Poles wanted to ask for his help, especially since there was a Soviet garrison just a few kilometers from the refuge.

111Zhillin received Menakhem warmly. He served brandy and snacks, expressed an interest in the children’s refuge, and said he would help them as much as possible. Jabrow was touched by this reception: “Only Russians can be so warm-hearted. I remember their goodness and generosity from before the Revolution.”

112Menakhem was surprised that Zhillin did not mention Anna. But when they were about to leave, Zhillin said: “I heard that a young Jewish hero was murdered, a ghetto fighter. I think Marek was his name. Why don’t your people do something?”

113“We’re powerless.”

114 “No, you’re not powerless. You underestimate your possibilities. I have a proposition for you.”

115Menakhem saw a change in Zhillin’s face, now streaked with shadows. His eyes gleamed yellow.

116“Your children’s refuge needs to make an appeal... No, not just the refuge... The Jewish Committee must sign this appeal to the Jews of the world. It declares that only the Soviet garrisons in Poland can protect you, and that without those Soviet garrisons the remaining Jewish survivors will be murdered. This is crucial for your people. I think you understand?”

117Menakhem now realized the game that Zhillin was playing.


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