b. Suceava, Romania, 1926
I am in a small village, Andreyevka, in the Ukraine after leaving my fifth hiding place. The people here live in such a vacuum! They don't know what is going on with the Jews; they have no newspapers and no radios. It is 1942, yet all they know is that the entire male population over eighteen is fighting the Germans and that they have to wait till the war ends for them to come home.
I find work in a house managed by a matriarch, Hanelka, whose three sons and husband are at the Russian front and whose three teenage girls are at home. They own a herd of sheep and make a living by shearing and spinning the wool and knitting it into sweaters, socks, and gloves. My chores include spinning and knitting. I am treated well.
Hanelka explains that they belong to a Christian religion called Calvinism that her husband brought home in 1918 from Germany, where he was a World War I prisoner. Every night Hanelka reads to me and her children chapters from the Old Testament, and then refers to some passages of the New Testament and what Christ had to say about it. When Passover comes, Hanelka bakes unleavened bread for me and treats me like her own. I feel safe in this godforsaken place.
One day I get a visitor—the mayor of a nearby town, Pietor, a man about
fifty years old who is tall and husky, with kind eyes and a soft voice. He wants to see me because he heard that I know German. He offers me a job to teach the children German and also to translate some papers from time to time.
“You know, ” he says, “the Germans will be here for many, many years to come and our children must be prepared. You will get room and board and also a salary. You'll live like a queen! And next week when the Romanian priest arrives here to baptize our children, he'll baptize you too. Then we'll issue you papers and you will be safe forever.”
I don't know what to answer. So I tell him my German is not that good and besides, I don't want to be baptized because I don't believe in Christ; and so I cannot go along with his plan.
The mayor's face turns red. “You stupid Yid. Do you know what's going on out there? The Germans are killing the Jews all over the Ukraine. They burn your synagogues and shoot men, women, and children on the streets wherever they are. I offer you life and you choose death …”