‘Reunited after the war. As much as she wanted to believe that, Rosa could not.’
Extract taken from The Medallion
By Cathy Golke
Published by Muddy Pearl
Summer waned and the first crisp days of autumn bit the air, but still Itzhak had not returned. Rosa had risked going to the house of the man arranged to pose in Itzhak’s stead, to beg for news. But there was none. Pani Leja sent slim packages of food that the man brought back to Rosa through the ghetto gate, tied to his leg beneath his trousers, but nothing had been heard or seen of Itzhak since he’d left.
By the end of September, Rosa was frantic. The money Itzhak had saved was gone, despite her careful rationing of every penny. Her ration book was allowed only because of the hand sewing she took in – the repair of German uniforms.
Late one afternoon, Rosa pulled the latest cheese packet from beneath her coat and unfolded its edges. The note, written inside the paper, came as a death sentence.
That was all, but Rosa knew what it meant. The Sturmbannführer had come looking or sent someone looking for Itzhak. It was a wonder it hadn’t happened before now. What it meant for her, for her mother, for her daughter, didn’t bear imagining. A pounding could come at their door any moment. There was no way to know.
Matka’s shadow crossed the table. She still had the strength to carry Ania in her arms – Ania, who weighed almost nothing. ‘What is it?’
‘They’ve gone to the Lejas, looking for Itzhak.’
‘What will they do?’
‘What do you think? They will come here next. One day.’
Rosa wanted to tear out her hair. She couldn’t think that, couldn’t imagine Ania being torn from her arms, her head smashed in the street. ‘Give me my daughter.’ She pulled the little girl from her mother’s arms and cradled her, roughly, beneath her chin. Ania whimpered.
‘That woman, Jolanta, came again today.’
‘Did she bring medicine? Ania’s cough is better, but with winter coming –’
‘She’s taking children out of the ghetto. She wants to take Ania.’
Rosa closed her eyes. She’d heard that the nurse – the Polish social worker – smuggled children from the ghetto and found them homes, safe houses, on the Aryan side. She’d met her once or twice when she brought food. That seemed a lifetime ago.
I would never have considered it before … but now, what if they come for me? What will happen to Ania, to Matka? Rosa swallowed, doing her best to keep her voice steady. ‘This is the last food Pani Leja will send. Even now she may be in Pawiak, or dead, because she helped Jews …’
‘We will manage. We have always managed.’
‘We won’t manage if the Gestapo comes. They will take me away at the very least. You and Ania would be left alone – with nothing. I can’t let that happen to my daughter.’
‘We can only wait and see. Perhaps they won’t come. If they do, we’ll make them understand – say that Itzhak deserted us. We don’t know where he is.’
‘We are playing Russian roulette, Matka! They will come for us. In their eyes we are useless mouths, feeders off their society.’
‘Rosa, Rosa.’ Her mother sat heavily at the table beside her. ‘What can I say to you? What can I do?’
‘Nothing. That is it, there is nothing you can do … but I beg you, do not try to stop me from doing what I must.’
Her mother grimaced but turned away, saying nothing. Rosa didn’t have the strength to try to convince her. She would need every ounce to give up her child.
In the morning, Rosa slipped the medallion Itzhak had given her on their wedding day from her neck. Using a chisel and hammer left in Itzhak’s toolbox, she carefully cut the medallion in half. Filing the cut filigreed edges smooth, she wound a short length of gold chain from her mother’s necklace through the split branches of the Tree of Life. The medallion and gold chains were the only things of value the women had not sold – gifts meant for the generations to come. Rosa crimped the chain closed and placed the half medallion over Ania’s head, around her small neck. Let this remind you you are not alone, my love. One day, we will be together again, mother and daughter, whole.
When Jolanta appeared at Rosa’s door, Rosa was there and ready.
‘I keep a list,’ Jolanta began, ‘of all the children’s Jewish names and the Aryan names they’re given. I keep a list of all the addresses, so after the war we will be able to reunite families.’
Jolanta was speaking, saying words that Rosa would only dissect later. She knew the young woman meant well, that she and her friends risked their lives to save the children of the ghetto, but Rosa had no idea if the woman believed her own speech. Reunited after the war. As much as she wanted to believe that, Rosa could not. Still, to save her daughter’s life was all that mattered now…
The Medallion by Cathy Golke is published by Muddy Pearl, priced £14.99.
‘Here is a story of survival and violence, of hounding and pursuit, of living outside the margins.’