The Sperling boys are brought in to the Danish refugee center. There is blood on their clothes, but they aren’t injured. Kalonymous makes sure they do not reveal anything about themselves to the staff there.
* * *
Thank you very much for your letter of inquiry, which I received two days past. Please forgive both my delay and my English. I speak well but my writing is poor, but I felt obligated to write this letter myself in my own hand.
The Sperling brothers were brought to the Danish Refugee Office about nine months ago. They were in fairly good condition. They were discovered wandering in the direction away from the Danish-German border, as though they were coming directly from there. They were brought in by a lorry driver named Åage Skovgaard who found them as he was crossing the border himself.
I must report that while the boys were in fairly good condition physically, the three of them were covered in blood when they arrived. After checking them carefully, we were able to ascertain that they were not wounded and the blood was not theirs. We were unable to find out how they came to be in this condition.
After extensive research, we were able to track down a man I believe to be your father, Mr. Jozef Rothstein, at the address of Mr. Emanuel Rothstein, who I believe is your brother. I’m not sure how the children came to be with you, but I hope and trust they are being well-cared for.
There was no mention of either a Berl or a Fisch, in reply to your inquiry.
I’m sorry I cannot enlighten you with further information.
Wishing you all the best,
Mr. Dagfin Gassner
Motti sighed as he reread the letter a few times before refolding it and returning it to its envelope. Piecing together the boys’ lives before they arrived in Eretz Yisrael was proving to be very difficult.
The only solution was to get the boys to talk. Bringing them out together had been an unsuccessful tactic, and so he decided to bring them out separately. Perhaps on their own the chains that bound them together would loosen enough to give him a clearer picture of the Sperling family.
He chose Hershel first, following his instinct that he might be the most likely to seek connection with him. He could take Dovid’l, but it seemed unfair to take advantage of his young age and naivete to pry information from him, even though he was most likely to give at least a child’s view of the events.
Two weeks after the failed excursion, he invited Hershel to join him on his teaching rounds. Hershel was the hungriest for learning, and while the subject didn’t matter as much to him as the absorbing of information, any information, Motti could detect his interest in learning Chumash and Rashi.
“Rashi judges every person in the Chumash with a good eye,” he’d exude. “He never says anything bad about anyone, even when it looks like what they’re doing is wrong, he always makes it right. I want to be like that.” Motti was surprised and pleased at Hershel’s perception and his novel approach.
When Motti gestured to Hershel to join him, he leaped with excitement. As he was walking out the door and preparing to hop into the wagon, Kalonymous appeared behind him, placed a firm hand on his shoulder and looked in his eyes with a stern expression. Hershel slumped, his excitement now a leaky bucket, draining his enthusiasm drop by drop.
As they plodded their way onto the main road, Motti stuck out a closed hand toward Hershel and, when he had his attention, opened it to reveal a piece of Breindl’s homemade taffy, a treat the boys loved. Hershel’s eyes lit up again, and they continued on in companionable silence.
The first stop was the ben Zahav family, formerly Goldenson. As soon as they stepped onto Israeli soil, they dropped what they called their “galut names” and changed them to Israeli derivatives. They hadn’t tossed away their Yiddishkeit, and the young ben Zahav boys learned with a real brenn. Hershel sat quietly among them, but Motti could tell he was following along with rapt attention.
Next stop was Rabinowitz, Polish immigrants and the opposite of the ben Zahavs. Walking into their modest home, one would think they had stepped through space into a Polish cottage. The boys sat obediently, didn’t say much, and recited by rote the material Motti taught.
After the Rabinowitzes, Motti brought the donkey to a gentle stop. There was nowhere for them to get out and eat, so Motti opened the package of food in the wagon and handed Hershel one of Breindl’s delicious sandwiches.
While Hershel’s mouth was full, Motti ventured a simple question. “What kind of sandwiches did you like to eat at home?” he asked.
After Hershel swallowed a bite, Motti could see he was giving the query some thought. “We ate soup with potatoes and carrots, bread, polena, Bohnensuppe one time a week…” He tilted his head up as though the answers were written on the sky, but Motti didn’t notice. He had found his first clue.
To be continued . . .