Fisch returns to the house pale and trembling. Berl sends the boys out, so that Fisch can tell the reason that he is terrified — he has come upon the Einsatzgruppen as they murdered Jews in the forest. Berl and Fisch understand that even though they try to stay hidden, none of them are safe.
* * *
Kalonymous overheard the entire conversation. He had already learned that if he didn’t eavesdrop, he’d never know what was going on, and so he’d perfected his technique.
He’d been so isolated here that he forgot the horrors going on around them: his dear mother being dragged off, never to be seen again, Yannick and his smuggling ring, Marlies and Berta and the German soldiers chasing them with their dogs. And now, this. His entire being was shouting to him: Run.
But how could he explain a gut feeling he was having to Berl and Fisch? They’d never leave, and they’d be devastated if he would gather his brothers and run off. They could sneak away in the night, but that would be cowardly.
He’d have to admit to Berl that he’d overheard his conversation with Fisch. There was no doubt in Kalonymous’ mind that their idyllic reprieve with the kindly brothers was drawing to a close.
He knew that the time had come to leave Germany, but he didn’t know what to do or where to go if they even succeeded. Fisch loved maps; he kept a whole collection in his desk.
He felt, suddenly, so very young. He didn’t even know where the border was. All he’d known, his whole life, were the perimeters of his neighborhood, and perhaps a few other streets in Berlin. Even now, he wasn’t even sure exactly where they were. There was no way, he reasoned, that he could do this on his own, even though he desperately wanted to. Coming to rely on and trust Berl and Fisch had melted away a layer of his tough veneer, and he now felt that he lacked the grit he’d need to face the next leg of the journey.
That evening, after Hershel and Dovid’l had gone to sleep, he sat down with Berl and Fisch, saying he had to speak with them urgently. As usual, they were completely attentive as he spoke.
“I heard you today, Fisch, telling Berl what you saw in the woods. Berl, you seemed to know what he was talking about. Can you explain it to me? I need to know.”
Berl, of course, spoke for the two of them. “Bochur’l, Berl and Fisch are here for you now. You don’t need to worry anymore.”
Kalonymous fell silent, unsure what to say next. He had no way to communicate the burning anxiety that had been coursing through his body all day long.
“We have to go.” His voice was so low Berl had to lean all the way over to hear him.
“They want to go,” he repeated to Fisch.
“They are shooting Jews!” Kalonymous said, in a louder whisper. “Franz dragged away my mother. I saw him. How could I have believed that we were safe? We are not safe! I have to protect my brothers.”
“You poor child!” Fisch moaned. “You never told us.”
“Not just me,” said Kalonymous. “We all saw it.”
“Oy,” said Berl.
“So, please, tell me what’s happening, and tell me how to get to the border.”
Berl looked at Kalonymous very carefully, trying to determine how much of the truth to reveal. He saw a lot of himself when he looked into Kalonymous’ face. Berl decided to speak.
“There are soldiers going around the countryside, rounding up Jews and shooting them. It’s as simple as that. It seems to be an organized effort.”
“Will they come here?” asked Kalonymous.
Berl had also considered this, wondering if he and Fisch and the boys were really out of harm’s way. While they weren’t part of a community, they weren’t hidden either. They could be found just as easily as ignored.
“I don’t know,” Berl said. His words were raw with truth.
The three of them sat silent and heavy, each imagining the scene in their minds, Fisch’s version much more vivid and frightening. If their three minds were joined, though, there would be only the one shared vision: Hershel and Dovid’l, their frail bodies struggling with the shovel, and what would happen next.
“If you go, we all go,” said Berl.
“No, no!” said Kalonymous. “No, you can’t leave your home. We can manage on our own. I just need for you to tell me how to get there and to give me one of your maps.”
“Fisch has a map in his brain,” said Berl. “If we all go together we have a much better chance of arriving safely.”
Kalonymous was adamant. “It was my idea. I don’t want to put you in danger.”
“You don’t understand,” said Fisch. “You boys have become our family. We need you as much as you need us. We’re leaving together, and that’s final.” He paused a moment, realizing he may have spoken to soon. “Right, Berl?”
“Absolutely, Fisch,” said Berl. “One hundred percent, absolutely right.”
To be continued . . .