CHAPTER FIVE HUNDRED and SEVENTY-FOUR
“Do you know the history here?” Bernie asked Joseph.
“I read the assessment Margaret made for this mission,” Joseph said. “It hit the highlights, but I’m sure it’s incomplete. I’d be honored if you told me what you know.”
Bernie stopped walking. He panted a little bit and his face actually flushed.
“Let’s get you into the shade here,” Cliff said.
They made a slow shuffle across the parking lot asphalt to a cement bench near the cemetery’s entrance.
“It’s hard to conceive of now, but prior to the war there were two-hundred-and-thirty-three thousand Jews here in Łodź,” Bernie said. “Tens of thousands of Jews were herded through the Rodogoszcz station, just down the way, on their way to death camps. After the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, the Germans felt they had to exterminate in this ghetto here. When the Soviets arrived on January 19, 1945, there were eight hundred and seventy seven Jews left here. You know how many of those were children?”
Cliff and Joseph shook their heads.
“Twelve,” Bernie said. “One of those was your grandfather.”
“That’s what he always said,” Cliff said, slightly defensively.
“I am not questioning you, son,” Bernie said. “I am telling you. Your grandfather was one of the twelve children liberated January 19, 1945.”
“Oh.” Cliff looked straight ahead. “Twelve?”
“Do you know what happened to the other eleven?” Cliff asked.
“I don’t,” Bernie said. He nodded and pointed to an elderly man walking in their direction. “But he does.”
Joseph hopped to his feet, but Bernie waved him back down to the bench. They watched the man stop to speak to the two men in the sedan who’d been following them. After a moment, the men drove away.
“Unnerving,” Joseph said.
“Business,” Bernie said. “The government cannot afford the international scandal of harassing him for any reason. Even these brand of Nazis are not that stupid.”
“Are they gone?” Cliff asked.
“No,” Bernie said. “We are not that lucky.”
“How did he …?”Joseph asked.
“I invited him here,” Bernie said. “One thing you should know …”
Joseph and Cliff turned to look at Bernie.
“The Soviets came in so hard and fast. The Germans pulled out of Łodźfast. They literally ran for their lives,” Bernie said. “You know what this means?”
Joseph and Cliff shook their heads.
“They left their factories, their paperwork, and these poor remaining souls,” Bernie said. “We learned a lot about the Nazi war machine from the paperwork left right here in Łodź. My friend here has spent his lifetime collecting, studying, and analyzing this information.”
The man was close enough to raise a hand to wave to Bernie.
“We’re in for a real treat,” Bernie said. “An afternoon with a true expert.”
The man approached and Bernie greeted him in Yiddish. Cliff was barely able to keep up with their quick back and forth conversation. Bernie gestured to Cliff and the man’s face changed.
The man knelt down and took Cliff’s hand.
“Welcome home,” the man said. “It will be my pleasure to tell you about your grandfather and his life here. But only if you tell me about his life in America. For my archives, of course.”
“This is your grandfather’s great-uncle on his mother’s side,” Bernie said. “What shall they call you?”
“These days most people call me, ‘Zayde’,” the man said.
“Grandfather,” Cliff translated for Joseph, who nodded.
“Let’s start here,” Zayde said.
Cliff and Joseph rose from the bench. They started into Ewaldstrasse, the Jewish Cemetery on Bracka Street.
Denver Cereal continues tomorrow…
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