The children slept. She curled up on the one comfortable arm-
chair that they owned and waited for her husband to come
"The wallpaper does look nice," she told herself emphatically.
"The apartment does look prettier since I put it up." But her
husband had never even noticed it, had never said a word.
She thought back to the years in Aushwitz, when, in order to
stay alive, she'd dreamt of having a loving husband, adorable
children and a beautiful home.
"Well, maybe it isn't so beautiful," she conceded with a
mirthless laugh. But to her, their cockroach-infested two room
cold-water flat in Manhattan's Lower East Side slum -- from
which most of the other Jewish survivors of World-War II had
already moved away into more Hassidic neighborhoods in Brooklyn
-- was still home. How lonely it had become, now that her
cousins had all relocated to Williamsburg. How desperately she
needed the friendship and warmth of another human being. She
looked again at her watch. Moishe would be home any minute. She
was wearing a dress that she had just finished sewing that
morning. As she'd hoped when she bought the material, the color
brought out the green of her eyes. She tucked some soft blond
wisps back under her kerchief and went into the kitchen to
check the pots on the stove.
She knew it was Moishe by the heavy drag of his footsteps on
the stairs. What a tired old man he'd become since they'd
arrived in America two years before. Until then, they'd thought
of America as the goldener land, the Land of
Opportunity, but two years of working in a factory alongside
Puerto-Ricans and Negroes had just about killed all his hopes
for the future. She wondered if anyone from the Camps would
still recognize him as the vibrant young man who'd gone through
the valley of almost-dead-bones, liberated after the war,
offering encouragement, support, comfort and reasurance? Who
would have then imagined that the very one who had inspired
hope and faith in others would so soon become drained of them
The footsteps came closer. She smiled into the mirror and
unlatched the door. He tried to smile, weariness dulling his
eyes. She searched his face for some sign of joy to be home
again after the long, hard day but all she saw was frustration.
"He's tired," she reminded herself sternly. "He leads a hard
life. A wife's job is to pull her husband through the difficult
times, to be a moral support till better days come
She served him supper, chattering gaily all the time to lift
him out of his depression: the silly things that had happened
to her that day, the cute things the children had said or done.
She tried not to dwell on his not noticing the new dress she
wore or the earrings she'd impulsively clipped on before
opening the door. And then she saw that her husband's head had
dropped; his eyes were closed.
He was fast asleep, chin on chest, food hardly touched. "And to
think that all the girls in Aushwitz envied me for marrying the
most sought after young man in the Camp." she exclaimed
mockingly. "The most dynamic! The most intense! The very one
whose soaring spirit forced them to stay alive when all they
longed for was death."
They had planned on aliyah when they married, but as the date
of their child's birth drew closer and the entry-certificates
for Israel had still not arrived, they had decided to join a
group going to America. What difference did it make where they
went, so long as their child was not born on German soil!
Her husband woke with a start, looked at his watch, jumped up.
"I'll be late," he gasped and grabbed his coat. "But where are
you going?" she asked unhappily. "If you only knew how I count
the minutes till you get home from work. Ever since the others
moved away, I have had no one to talk to all day." He looked up
startled, saw the new dress she wore, the earrings, the pained
look in her eyes. His face went white. "I've found a teacher,"
he said in a rush. "In shul, this morning. He said that
if I want, he would study with me every night." He looked at
his watch again.
"I'm supposed to meet him at eight o"clock." His voice was a
cry. "Maybe I can still do something with my life," he pleaded
in a near whisper. "Maybe I can still make up for the years
that I lost. It's been eating into me ever since we came to
America. It's the only thing that I think of all day; to make
up for the time that I might have been studying Hashem's holy
word. It's come to a point where nothing else makes sense. If I
don't at least do that, I won't be able to answer why I tried
so hard to stay alive."
As the words rushed out, his face became alive again and his
eyes sparkled as they hadn't in years. Once again her husband
was the man in the Camp whom everyone had loved. But, whereas
in the Camp he'd encouraged her to rise towards him and had
welcomed her to fit into his dreams, to share them, now, in
desperation to save his own dying spirit, he had neither the
patience nor the desire to explain it all to her so that she
could understand, and share his longing. "I've been empty for
His plea was a whisper that slashed the silence. How she wanted
to recapture the past with him, to redream their future, to cry
together with him and hope for better times. How desperately
she needed another human being to cling to... She also needed
moral support, whereas all he needed was the spiritual
stimulation that came from Torah study.
Again her husband looked at his watch. "You do want me to go!
Tell me that it's O.K. with you for me to go." The urgency in
his voice left her no doubt that their life depended on her
"Yes, of course," she said softly, forcing herself to smile.
"Of course you must go. It's perfectly all right. I understand.
Anyhow, I wanted to paper the bedroom tonight." His eyes filled
with silent gratitude. "Of course you've got to go," she said
again. "I am so glad for you! Hurry or you'll be late".
She stood by the open door and listened to him running down the
steps, thinking of him as a young man, full of excitement,
rushing off to his first love.
It seemed so long ago...