Kalonymous, Hershel, and Dovid’l realize that their mother is not coming back. They decide that they have to leave the house, and they set off for the home of an aunt who lives in another city.
Kalonymous knew some of the back roads from when he had accompanied his mother on some of her jobs; these he had memorized, because for these the scenery was hardly entrancing. He had recently learned how to read a map, and he wondered where he could lay hands on one. There was a big one on the wall of his room, but he didn’t dare return. They’d have to manage without.
He led them off in the direction he had gone with his mother. The road was dark — the Reich felt it unnecessary for Jews to have streetlights, and they had all been removed. He remembered Mama had been furious; she often walked home late at night and was afraid of the danger, but Kalonymous blessed the dark now. He had resolved that they should take great pains to avoid all people, because he could no longer tell who was a friend. Who would have thought that Franz, of all people, would be the means to their destruction? If he was now an enemy, then anyone could be. No one could be trusted.
The three boys moved along in the dark, holding hands in a single line, Dovid’l walking between Kalonymous and Hershel. The road was so quiet, all they could hear was their own breathing and the soft crunching of their footsteps. Their bag clunked and scraped as Hershel pulled it along — he was last in line. He tried to heft it over his shoulder so it wouldn’t drag so noisily, but it was too heavy and he was too young.
“Kalonymous,” he whispered. “What should I do? The bag is making too much noise!”
“I know,” he replied. “Let me see.” As he pulled out an item, he stuffed it into one of their pockets or anywhere he could find room to fit it. The only problem, and their only food source, was the glass jars of borscht. Kalonymous and Hershel stared at each other over Dovid’l’s head, engaged in a silent discussion over what they should do.
“We could find food along the way,” said Hershel.
“We could,” said Kalonymous. “Let’s see how long we can carry the jars. If we can’t, we’ll leave them behind.”
Hershel nodded and they each took a jar of borscht and tucked it under their arms. It only took five steps before Dovid’l dropped his. It made a dull thud as it crashed to the ground.
“This isn’t going to work,” said Hershel. He and Kalonymous also set their jars on the ground and kept walking. Kalonymous hoped they wouldn’t get hungry too soon. They’d finished the two loaves of bread, but that had been over a period of three days. By his calculation, they would be ravenous by morning. They would have to find food somewhere.
Kalonymous was old enough to daven, and had started to learn some Chumash before he left cheder, but he wasn’t yet familiar with the concept of hashgachah pratis. He didn’t realize that he could ask Hashem for help.
Hershel, on the other hand, had insinuated himself beneath his mother’s feet, tangling them as she moved around the house doing her chores. He asked her question after question about many things, and one of his frequent topics was Hashem. “Is He watching us right now?” he’d asked. “Can He see what I’m doing? Does He watch me when I sleep? Does He give you money? Can we ask Him for anything we want?” His mother had been surprisingly patient, answering each question carefully, and even if he asked the same question five times in a row, she always thought of something new to add.
So it was Hershel who began to call out loud, forgetting that they were supposed to be quiet: “Hashem, please help us! We need Your help!” Kalonymous shushed him wildly and Hershel fell silent.
It seemed as though they’d been walking forever, yet it had barely been a mile. Kalonymous had no idea how he would keep them all safe, and the only solution he could come up with was to keep moving.
He was both relieved at the sunrise and dreading it at the same time: the darkness was gone but they were no longer invisible. They would have to take shelter and continue walking after dark. He began to look around for a place to stop, but all he could see were fields and farm land, covered with a light dusting of frost.
“If only it were summer…” and then the idea hit him. Most farms kept a little hut where the workers could get relief from the sun. There must be one among all these farms, and it would surely be abandoned in winter. He kept his eyes peeled until he spotted a little shack, barely big enough for the three of them.
“This way,” he ordered. As they turned into the field they sunk almost to their ankles in slush. They were wearing boots but the icy water flooded inside them and their feet got soaked. Hershel and Kalonymous hoisted Dovid’l by his arms between them and ferried him over to the shack.
It was a dismal place, dirtier than anywhere they had ever seen, but it was surprisingly dry, and it was protected from the wind. They sat down in a corner and huddled together to keep each other warm. Kalonymous struggled valiantly to stay awake, until sleep finally overtook him.
Despite the discomfort, they slept until it was nearly dark. Only then did they realize what they had done.
To be continued . . .