I will soon learn to read.
Papa has been telling me so for ever so many days. As the son of the house, learning to read is almost as important as learning the Shema itself. Not to read would be a shame to the family – especially since Papa is a book seller. It is only that he has been so busy lately. There has been no time to teach me.
The synagogue school closed a few months ago when the bad Gentiles broke the windows and said terrible things to the rabbi. But Mama and Papa still tell me I must be ready to go when I am old enough. Miriam just rolls her eyes when they talk about it, and smiles in a way that is not at all nice. She tells me that I should not plan to go to synagogue school. She says we will probably leave Munich soon because of the Gentiles.
We spend each evening cleaning up the shop together while Mama makes supper. Miriam dusts the high-up shelves, and I make sure all the books on the bottom are straight and in order. Miriam usually sneaks a book from a shelf when she thinks I’m not looking. Papa has told her that she need not fill her head with these things, but she keeps reading and sneaking the books back, and I do not tattle on her.
Miriam has just put tonight’s book under her apron. I try to peek at the cover and pretend I can see what she is reading. Someday, perhaps, I will do the same.
Glass is breaking outside. Strange crashes and sounds are coming from all around. Someone is yelling words I do not understand. Miriam drops the duster and takes my hand, tugging me toward the door of our home behind the store. Her hand is sweaty and cold at the same time.
“Children, come in now.”
It is Mama’s voice, and she sounds as if she might cry. There is more glass breaking, and the Beneshs next door are yelling at the Gentiles in the street. As the door opens, a flash of orange light comes through the window. Fire! I try to turn and peer at the window, but Mama and Miriam both push me through the door.
“What’s wrong?” I ask, doing my best to sound grown up and serious like everyone else. “Why are people yelling?”
“Nazis.” Papa spits out the word as if it tastes bitter. “Dassah, get the children away from the windows. Perhaps they will think we are not here.”
Mama’s arms are around me as she herds us into the corner. We huddle together and I can feel her heart thudding against the back of my head.
More screaming. My hands are cold and sweaty now. Miriam is clutching Papa’s arm, her book forgotten in her lap. Papa is not scolding her about taking it.
“Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad. Barukh Shem k'vod malkhuto l'olam va-ed.”
Papa began the prayer, but we all join in by the end of the first line. It feels right. This night is not so different…
A crash from our store. I yell in surprise, but Mama shushes me. Her heart is louder than before. Papa is on his feet. Our windows are breaking. I can hear the Gentiles laughing.
They burst through the door, one holding a gun, the other a rock. Behind them, another is throwing a torch at the bookshelves. My heart is beating in my throat.
“Under arrest,” the one with the gun barks. “Take the children.”
Papa looks scared, but he looks both of us in the eye. “Miriam, Benjamin. Do not fight. Be good children. Give them no reason to hurt you.”
I want to scream. I want to fight back against these Gentiles who are taking my family. Instead, I obey Papa and let the bad man take me with Miriam. Her face is pale, but she looks as if she is trying to be strong. There have been whispers that those who are taken by the Gentiles never come home. I know this is what she is thinking as we march past smashed windows and our beaten up neighbors.
All Papa’s books are burned up. Our home is gone, and I can’t see Mama and Papa anymore. I squeeze Miriam’s hand harder.
I may never learn to read.
Author’s Note: Kristallnacht, or the Night of Breaking Glass, was a massive anti-Semitic demonstration ordered by Hitler Nov. 9-10, 1938. On this night, 91 Jews were murdered and 25,000 sent to concentration camps. 267 synagogues were destroyed, and thousands of homes and businesses were ransacked.
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